It’s a dog-race-dog world for Sara and Butch Parr.
For the last 11 years the couple has offered dog-sled rides at Winter Woods Dog Sled Tours and for decades have competed in dog sled racing.
Last weekend they competed in the Flathead Classic Dog Sled Race on Saturday and Sunday near Olney, with Sara finishing fourth in the four-dog race and Butch ninth.
Both originally from southern Wisconsin, Sara and Butch grew up 17 miles apart but never met until they crossed paths in Montana in 1981. Two years later they married, and their passion for dogs led to their lifelong hobby of racing them.
Sara calls dog sled racing Butch’s passion and her adopted passion.
“I had the dogs when we met, and she wanted to go for a dog sled ride,” Butch said. “So she’s been on one for 35 years.”
The Parrs have 28 dogs in their kennel right now ranging from two to 11 years old, and have participated in races of varying lengths, the longest being a 500-mile race that Butch took third place in.
Since the 1980s, the Parrs and other mushers, like Pam and Jack Beckstrom have been helping to organize races around the area, like the original Glacier View — later Root Beer Classic — race in Polebridge.
For Butch, dog sled racing has always been about getting outside, exploring and meeting new people.
“It’s just fun to be around the other dog teams and drivers and learn from them and hear their stories,” he said. “It’s just a great way to see Montana on the winter trails. They don’t break down, they always get you home and you can travel a long ways.”
The majority of their dogs are Alaskan Huskies, some more mixed than others, but all with a racing pedigree.
The real value comes from the time spent working with the dogs, Butch said.
“It’s just always fun to raise dogs from puppies and see them succeed and love being sled dogs. You have a great time being with them on the trail and traveling through new places.”
“They’re family,” Sara added.
Despite being a small kennel and working full-time jobs — Sara teaches sixth grade at Whitefish Middle School and Butch works construction — the couple still manages to get out and offer a unique and intimate dog sled experience for their customers.
On weekends after Christmas vacation, they’ll start taking guests out on a 7-mile trail near the kennel. They’ll take two people out, Sara riding with one guest and Butch with the other, and the sleds have a seat for the Parrs and a stand-up stanchion for the guests, which makes it feel like the reins are in their hands.
“I think they like the feeling that they’re really riding the sled. It’s a real bucket list item for a lot of people to go out and do a dog sled tour,” Sara said. “And we have the best customers. We don’t do as many as some of the other tours because we’re just a smaller kennel, so we’ll maybe do one on a weekend, and they can come back and play with the dogs and sit and have hot chocolate and cookies with us and chat and talk dogs. There’s not a rush to kind of get going.”
“It gives us a chance to share our lifestyle that we have,” Butch added.
For more information on Winter Woods Dog Sled Tours, visit http://www.explorewhitefish.com/content/winter-woods-dog-sled-tours/cot58343D1FDF961108C or call 406-862-7232.