Longtime sled-dog racing leader Jack Beckstrom dies

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Jack Beckstrom runs dogs in the inaugural Glacier View Dog Sled race in February, 1983, up the North Fork. The race would later evolve into the Root Beer Classic. The first race was 129 miles and took days to complete. (Hungry Horse News file photo/Scott Crandell)

Jack Beckstrom, a longtime leader in competitive sled-dog racing in Montana, died unexpectedly on March 5. He was 64.

Beckstrom, of Olney, founded the Root Beer Classic sled-dog race in Polebridge in the early 1980s, naming it after his much-loved lead dog at the time. He also was one of the founders of the 350-mile Race to the Sky and was board chairman of the event for many years.

“He was everything in the sled-dog world. He was the sled-dog racer of Montana,” said Sara Parr, who with her husband Butch raise sled dogs compete in races.

Parr said Beckstrom was the “go-to” person for those who wanted to find or sell dogs or needed equipment.

Sean Hard, a former musher who has helped Beckstrom make sleds for the past few years, said Beckstrom was a wealth of knowledge about sled-dog racing and always offered lots of positive reinforcement.

“He’ll obviously be missed by everyone,” Hard said. “He helped a lot of people, and he was a heck of a musher.”

Beckstrom also helped out when local mushers started the Flathead Classic Sled Dog Race about 10 years ago.

Beckstrom started training and racing dogs in 1972, entering the sport with a two-dog team in Cle Elum, Washington. He quickly graduated to five-dog and then nine-dog teams. Through the years he ran hundreds of competition trails in the Midwest and in western states, chalking up plenty of wins through the years.

He competed in the Governor’s Cup 500-mile sled-dog race many times. While he never competed in the famous Iditarod — the “Last Great Race” that’s now underway in Alaska — he was a race marshal for one of the Iditarod races.

Beyond the racing circuit, Beckstrom owned and operated Adanac Kennels, a boarding kennel near the county landfill for a number of years. He and his wife Pam owned and operated Adanac Sleds and Equipment, a sled-dog manufacturing business that has earned international acclaim.

A year after moving to Montana in 1975, Beckstrom took over a dog-sled building business after his friend Lee Fishback died. He got a call from Lee’s widow, who asked if he could take over the handmade sled portion of the Fishbacks’ ZIMA Sled and Harnesses businesses. He was up for the challenge. Later, he bought Mel Fishback’s patented ZIMA Harness Co., and that was the springboard for Adanac Sleds and Equipment.

“I was a sled builder before I was a carpenter,” Beckstrom told the Daily Inter Lake in a 2008 interview, explaining he was “mostly self-taught the hard way.”

Beckstrom has been featured in many sled-dog publications, including a cover story in Musher magazine. A British publication noted that without Beckstrom’s dedication over many decades, sled-dog racing in Montana “might be a footnote rather than a major attraction in Big Sky Country.”

A service for Beckstrom is planned at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 17, at Whitefish Assembly, 150 Lamb Lane in Whitefish.

A full obituary appears on B3.

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