Finnmarksløpet, a great test of strength and a great winter festival on the roof of Europe.

The Finnmarksløpet sled dog race takes place every year, the second week of March: that’s when around 150 sled dog teams of 8 or 14 dogs (more than 1500 dogs in total) will be competing over 5-6 days across snowy Finnmark, with about half going the full 1,200 kilometres (745 miles) and the rest 500 kilometres (311 miles). The race starts in Alta, crosses Finnmark to Kirkenes and ends back in Alta. It is Europe’s longest, and the world’s northernmost, sled dog race.

There are no stages in the Finnmarksløpet race: it goes without stopping from start to finish. While there are of course obligatory rest breaks, they take place when the teams reach designated checkpoints, so there’s always someone who’s driving. The winner takes around five days and 10 hours to complete the race in good weather conditions, while the last teams cross the finishing line after seven days.

The second week in March is a good week for being outdoors in Finnmark: the weather is stable and temperatures are starting to rise once more. The coldest temperature on record during the race is minus 44 degrees Celsius, but day-time temperatures are usually a few, comfortable minus degrees. Night temperatures can of course go lower. Snowstorms may also occur, but are fairly rare so late in the winter. The Finnmark terrain is as though made for sled dog racing, with gentle slopes, flat plateaus and forest-clad valleys, which allows the dogs to get up plenty of speed.

The Alaska husky is a dog with very special characteristics: there is no other dog in the world capable of transporting people quickly over long distances. A 25kg husky needs up to 10000 calories a day, while a man needs around 2500. The 500km race is run with teams of eight dogs each, while the 1000km race uses teams of 14 dogs. Alaska huskies are mentally driven to pull: the reins that bind them to the harness are always tight and tense. If the reins are slack, the musher knows that something’s wrong, then the dog gets to sit on the sled under a blanket until the next checkpoint. A total of 11 veterinarians carry out health checks on the dogs throughout the race, and retire any which should not run any further. If too few dogs are left, the team has to withdraw. There is rarely disagreement between the veterinarians and the mushers, for the mushers keep a close eye on how their four-legged friends are faring.

Watch the Finnmark race
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