Pedigree Stage Stop mushers close in on finish line

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SUBLETTE COUNTY — The 2024 Pedigree Stage Stop dogsled race is nearing the finish line, with 15 teams still vying for the $165,000 purse and the prestigious title of “Stage Stop Champion.” After racing Sublette County’s Upper Green River trailhead during stages 3 and 4 on Jan. 29-30, and taking off from Kemmerer on Jan. 31, mushers tackle the final two stages of the race in Alpine on Feb. 2, before crossing the last finish line in Driggs, Idaho, on Feb. 3.
Mushers are allowed to run up to 10 dogs per day of their pool of 14, although some run lighter with teams of eight dogs. A dog is not required to run all seven stages and can sit one out. Mushers put a lot of thought and strategy into which dogs they rest on which days as they prepare for the various obstacles ahead.
Jess Moore, the 29-year-old “rookie musher” driving Frank Teasley’s team of dogs for Alix Crittenden, opted to lighten the load Wednesday morning, leaving the shorter Kemmerer Stage with a team of only 8 dogs, explaining, “We went back and forth on it a lot, but that’s what my gut is telling me to do… I want to make sure that I can stop them. I think it’s going to be a pretty fast trail, pretty flat, one of the shorter stages, so we’ll see.”

Ahead of Wednesday’s run, Moore was holding onto fifth place in her first competition. She completed day 1 in Teton County in 1:58:47, day 2 in Lander in 1:59:12, day 3 in Sublette County in 2:24:16, and day 4, also in Sublette County, in 2:22:31. She finished the Kemmerer stage just before press deadline on Jan. 31, averaging 15.1 mph.

Moore began working with Jackson Hole Iditarod (JHI) as a tour guide in 2018 and in 2019 friend and fellow musher Crittenden, 36, convinced Moore to work as a handler for the JHI race team.“After a year, Alix approached me about me being part of the race team.”

Over the past half-dozen years, Crittenden or Moore worked with the dogs – seldom both at the same time. This past year, they had more help at the JHI kennels and finally the two of them were able to train while racing two teams side by side – or in some cases, neck and neck, Moore said.

“It has been really nice this year to be able to do two teams at once and it’s fun for the dogs,” Moore said.

Still, until very recently, Moore did not plan to be any more than Crittenden’s racing partner and assistant. Crittenden, a resident of Bondurant, is a regular competitor in the annual sled dog race, taking second place last year with a time of 16:02:27. She had plans to win first in 2024 but suffered a significant seizure on Jan. 14, which resulted in her being life-flighted to the University of Utah where a team of neurologists diagnosed her with a brain tumor. Crittenden underwent major surgery and with a half-shaved head and plenty of staples in her skull a dozen days later, she was in the starting chute to cheer on Moore and the team. Moore didn’t hesitate to step onto the runners and even competed wearing Crittenden’s no. 8 bib.

JHI trainer Doug Cutler, who works with “the yearlings,” came aboard as did Jessie Pearson, Crittenden’s sister, a physical therapist in Jackson who has helped out for years with massage and stretching the racers. Moore’s boyfriend Steven Lea drove the JHI truck and trailer so Moore could get some sleep while on the move, and Crittenden’s parents Barry and Andrea Pearson also arrived for the race week.

Following Moore’s Jan. 29 run, Crittenden said she is “very, very proud of my team. Not just the dogs but the entire group of people. Jess (Moore) has been doing a very good job driving them. Very calm and well put together and they trust her.”

Crittenden is still awaiting the pathology results. The surgeons “couldn’t get everything, but we will find out what is is they took out and then make a plan after that,” Crittenden said.

Donations to offset her mounting medical expenses can be made online at https://www.gofundme.com/f/lets-help-alix-crittenden-with-medical-expenses. An online auction with dozens of donated items is also live on Facebook under the group name Auction for Alix Crittenden.

Live updates from the 2024 Pedigree Stage Stop race are available at https://www.wyomingstagestop.org/.