From the frozen landscape of Iceland to the snow-covered wilds of Alaska, Parajumpers’ latest extreme sport travelogue introduces us to Iditarod mushers Anna and Kirsty Berington.
The brave twin sisters, who have run Alaska’s perilous, dog-sledding race, coined ‘The Last Race on Earth’ six years in a row, grew up in Northern Wisconsin and were first introduced to the sport by a neighbor who bred sprint racing dogs.
Starting out with just three or four dogs between them, the pair initially built a makeshift sledge from some downhill skies and a milk crate. Inspired by outstanding female mushers Libby Riddles and Susan Butcher, who have excelled in this male dominated sport, the sisters later relocated to Alaska to pursue their Iditarod ambitions.
‘We always grew up around animals, but we’ve never had the amount of dogs that we have now,’ says Anna of their loyal Alaskan Husky companions. ‘The meaning of musher to me is a dog driver, the coach, the nutritionist, the parent, the friend – you're everything to the dog,’ she says. ‘You're not just standing in the back of a sledge, you're part of that team of dogs.’
The legendary race itself covers 1000 miles of the roughest and most remote mountainous terrain. To get their dogs ready, the sisters train through all weather conditions – running their dog pack over frozen rivers, treacherous climbs, desolate tundra, and through wind and rainstorms, and even the darkness of night with little more than their instincts and a headlamp to guide them away from danger.
‘Having the right gear is extremely important,’ explains Anna, cocooned in her Parajumpers’ Polar Equipment series jacket, composed of a 3-layer cotton shell, 730 fill power 90/10 down fill and luxurious shearling inserts. ‘If you are cold and your hands aren’t working, you can’t take care of your dogs,’ she adds. ‘When you practice you have to wear the stuff that you are going to race in because when you hit 40 below you don’t know if you are going to be warm enough otherwise.’ The sisters take the same practical approach with their race day equipment: ‘We build our own sledge because when it breaks, we know how to fix it!’ she says of the life and death reality of the race's harsh conditions and wayward location. ‘The same with tying our own lines,’ she adds. That said, the pair agree that over their Iditarod run, technological improvements both in clothing and equipment have vastly improved warmth and safety.
Here, deep within the picturesque Alaskan wilderness, the quiet solitude is as splendid as the icy landscape. ‘When you move along with the dogs all you hear is their feet hitting the snow, and the sound of their breathing,’ Anna reflects. ‘The sound of the sledge gliding across the snow, even in the darkness, it's beautiful. The moon and the sunrises and sunsets and the wildlife you encounter, it's just everything. You never see the same thing twice, you can do the Iditarod a hundred times and it's never going to be the same.’
It’s this deep passion for their animals and exploring this untouched environment that has seen the pair triumph at the highest levels of the sport. ‘The Yukon Quest Iditarod is like the Super Bowl,’ concludes Anna. ‘It really is an accomplishment and a dream come true.’