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Keweenaw Coffee Works: Spirit of the Trail

Keweenaw Coffee Works of Calumet has once again put their expert knowledge of the roasting of quality coffee beans to work for the CopperDog 150/40 races. Valerie Baciak and Nate Shuttleworth, co-owners of the Calumet based business, are roasters of some of the Copper Country’s finest blends of coffee.

Spirit of the Trail, one of their many specialty coffee blends, is roasted exclusively for CopperDog. This limited edition coffee is prepared from beans grown in the Chiapas region of Mexico and boasts warming undertones of chocolate, toffee, and lemon.

Spirit of the Trail, is available at both the Calumet and Houghton locations of River Valley Bank, Lead Dog sponsor for the CopperDog 150/40 races. A 1- pound bag of this whole bean blend is $15.00 and Keweenaw Coffee Works is graciously donating 100% of the profits from the sales to the CopperDog organization.

We are grateful to have Keweenaw Coffee Works as one of our sponsors. Please drop by River Valley and pick up a pound of this specialty coffee today and help support the CopperDog races!

posted on 1/16/2015 12:57 PM by Meredith LaBeau | permalink | Back to Top

About Volunteer Loyalty

A few years ago a rather prominent event planner in the Keweenaw told us that “CopperDog has an amazingly high level of volunteer loyalty; people just keep coming out year after year to support this event.” We reflected on this comment and agreed; CopperDog has an amazing turnout of volunteer each and every year, but why? “Why do people come out for CopperDog?” is one of those questions that we have been asking for years and never been fully able to answer. 

We suspect the answer has something to do with “inclusion”. Where so many events like foot races, bike races, ski races, triathlons, and various other sports tournaments are focused on the sport and on the athletes, CopperDog is focused much more strongly on community and the idea of people and organizations coming together to do something truly wonderful.

Look around, athletes are everywhere: walking, running, biking, skiing, swimming, skating, and playing all kinds of sports.  But people dedicating their lives to gliding down a trail scrutinizing dog butts, that is far less common; in fact it’s incredibly rare comparatively speaking. 

What our volunteers do have in common is the love of the Upper Peninsula, the Copper Country and the Keweenaw. The CopperDog 150 ultimately earns volunteer loyalty because they love this place in which we live, they love the life and vitality that the CopperDog resonates, they love being included and playing an important part in a world-class event that happens right in their backyard, and they breath in the magic and beauty of mushing and dog teams races through the countryside and go home feeling inspired, energized and richer from the experience.

Hopefully, the CopperDog will continue to inspire us for many years to come and old friends will continue to return each year and new friends with come out and become part of our family. CopperDog is about inclusion, about bringing people together, about hard work that is totally worth it, about being inspired by moments of true beauty, and the satisfaction that comes from a shared success.

posted on 2/6/2014 10:33 PM by Todd Brassard | permalink | Back to Top

How We Approach Safety

To fully appreciate how CopperDog approaches safety it's very helpful to know the history of our inaugural event in 2010. As mushers poured into town for our first race the temperature was in the 50's and it was pouring rain. We literally watched in dismay as the rain and high temperatures eroded our trail system down to the dirt before our eyes.

Going into the third and final stage, record high temperatures concerned the vets and a few mushers considered the trails impassible (dirt, rocks and water barriers). Mushers were split evenly down the middle between pressing on regardless or canceling the third stage of the race. A compromise was reached (the start time moved up and the distance reduced, but a number of mushers walked away never intending to return.

Our fledgling race organization received more than its fair share of unanticipated challenges and tough love that first year.

With our first race wrapped up, we reflected on what we learned and we had a decision to make. We either needed to get out of the racing business or do the work necessary to becoming a world-class event. We chose the latter deciding that we were going to be one of the most dog and musher friendly events in the sport. 

Our motto, "happy healthy dogs, happy healthy mushers" because a constant reminder of our goals and was later expanded to include "happy healthy volunteers".

Since 2010 we have worked very hard to develop our race around this very simple, but power idea. The people who plan the CopperDog are engaged and passionate about every aspect of the event, especially the safety of the dogs, mushers, and hundreds of volunteers who make the race possible.

Although it is impossible to remove all the risk from events like sled dog races, with clear focus and persistence it is possible to minimize risk through excellent planning, effective communication, innovative tools, and hands-on volunteer training.

We do not know if CopperDog is entirely unique in offering hands-on volunteer training (volunteers practicing trail crossings with real 10-dog teams in a large parking lot) to volunteers, but we know it teaches volunteers what they need to know going into race weekend.

Our volunteers are trained how to clearly signal teams (day and night), capture and line out teams, follow the instructions of mushers, log mushers through crossing, and communicate vital data back to headquarters so we can make sure all the mushers are accounted for and making forward progress throughout the race.

We work closely with fire departments, police, search and rescue, first responders, and the road commissions to alert traffic to upcoming trail crossings, close lanes on bridges, and stay in radio communication with headquarters. We also employ a radio network that is constantly sending information on musher movements back to headquarters which is logging data into a database and feeding an interactive map that is estimating the position of each team on the route.

We have some pretty advanced technology driving our information flow and each year the systems are being developed and improved.

We started a new Lead Volunteer program in 2013 where volunteers interested in taking on more responsibility are provided with additional training and tools to help us manage the hundreds of volunteers working the event race weekend. These volunteers will help ensure that race procedures are followed, that information is flowing properly, and safety receives top priority.

Finally for 2013 we have created and filled a new Safety Coordinator position and supporting positions within CopperDog intended on help bring together all of our safety initiatives into a comprehensive plan that actually gets communicated effectively.

Will all of these initiatives guarantee that the CopperDog will never have a tragic incident?  Not by a long shot, but these initiatives help us minimize both the frequency of incidents and their impact when they do occur.

Will our efforts be enough? We hope so, with so many dogs, mushers, volunteers and fans putting their faith in our careful planning to keep them safe.

We are deeply saddened by incidents at any race where dogs and/or mushers are injured, but we must study these incidents to understand would types of policy or procedures can help prevent similar problems from happening in the future.

posted on 2/18/2013 12:17 AM by Todd Brassard | permalink | Back to Top

A Q&A with Race Director Todd Brassard

The CopperDog 150 will be featured in an upcoming edition of West Michigan Senior Times.  The questions were asked by writer Leo Martonosi and the publication manager is Debra Slone.


Our March, 2013, event will be CopperDog 150's fourth racing season. The idea to host a sled dog race in Calumet, MI sprang to life early in 2009 and the first race was held March, 2010.


A local Calumet business owner, Jerry Mitchell, was enjoying a cup of coffee with his wife at their home when they looked out their back window and spotted a couple of sled dog teams cruising down the trail. He thought it was a beautiful sight. Later, at his Calumet restaurant, Carmelita's, he happened upon the actual musher - Truman Obermeyer of Brewery Creek Racing - and started a conversation that led to the idea of starting a sled dog race.

Tom Tikkanen, the Executive Director of Main Street Calumet, was approached with the idea and a public interest meeting was held. In turn, this led to the formation of a steering committee to raise the funds needed to hire a race director and execute the first race. Twenty local businesses, CopperDog's "Trail Blazers," provided the initial start up funds.

For that first year a planning committee was formed, a race director was hired, and the 2010 race took place.


CopperDog 150 was originally organized as a sub-committee of Main Street Calumet, and remained as such until August, 2012. In August, 2012, CopperDog 150 incorporated into CopperDog, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Currently, CopperDog has 12 board members, 6 Event Directors, approximately 20 people working on high level planning teams, and uses 400 volunteers on the race weekend.

CopperDog, Inc. is a 100% volunteer organization. I do not get paid, nor does anybody else. This is a volunteer community effort and we're very proud of that fact. After paying a race director that first year, to get things off the ground, nobody has been paid for the work they do, or the time they put in.


Although the idea for a race can be narrowed down to just a few people, the actual success and growth of the race is due to an ongoing infusion of time and talent from key members of our community. Our working board, our event directors, our high level planners are each smart, creative, resourceful, and dedicated individuals. The CopperDog 150 is too big and requires too many talents and disciplines to attribute the event's success to any one person. We do however, have a core team of people at the heart of the event that provide the vision, ethics, integrity and so on that have become the base on which the rest of the organization is founded. Ultimately, it's a team effort by many excellent people.


Sled dogs do very well in cold weather. That's not to say that blizzard conditions are favorable for racing, but the dogs certainly love snow covered trails. Ideal conditions are cold temperatures, a well packed trail which is not too powdery, crunchy with ice, or punchy from lack of packing. The CopperDog 150 has survived warm weather, a snow storm, and perfect conditions as well. Dog and musher care is top of our list, so we always have contingency plans for unfavorable weather.


I do not. I have never been on a sled. In early interviews, back in 2010 and 2012, reporters would ask what we knew about planning a sled dog race. I told them, with some amount of pride, "Absolutely nothing!", but that was made the CopperDog 150 fresh and unique. Rather than inheriting all of the long-standing, tried and true methods of running a sled dog race, we introduced fresh and fun ideas - as much out of ignorance as inspired insight. We really care about our stake holders (and there are many - especially the dogs) and it shows in our attention to detail and our high standard of veterinary care. We focus on all aspects of putting on a good community event.


At the first race in 2010, we had no idea if anybody would turn out to watch the Friday night start. As we wrapped up our tasks and the mushers prepared their dog teams, we watched and waited. At first 50 people arrived, then 100, then 500. We were feeling pretty good at that point, but the people kept coming. Then there was 1000, then 2000, and then 3000. We were completely amazed at how the community came out to experience and support the 2010 CopperDog 150. We knew we had started something great. In 2011, we estimated 4000 spectators were present at the start. In 2012, our estimate was somewhere between 5000 and 7000 people. We're anticipating growth for 2013, especially since we're finally getting the hang of this whole dog-race thing.


The overall budget for the CopperDog in 2012 was right around $60,000. Here's a link to a great story that talks about how CopperDog funds get spent. 

Our clear top financial supporter is River Valley Bank. They provide us with that first $10,000 each year to get the ball rolling. River Valley Bank also goes above and beyond by allowing us to use their facility for receiving mushers, providing snacks for mushers, and giving hats to the incoming teams.

We have a few other organizations that donate money in the range of $1000-$2500 and many cost saving in-kind donations, but much of the money is raised $200 and $300 at a time through the sale of over one hundred dasher and sled banners. Every dollar really counts and gets turned around and spent in the community. Additionally, we take in about $10,000 in registration fee income.

For 2013 our race purse (the prize money) is $23,000.

Incidentally, the 2011 CopperDog 150 filled just 12 days after registration opened. This year the registration for the 150 pro-class race filled in just 3.5 hours.


This year, in the 2013 race these are the states representing registered teams and teams on the waiting list: WI - 1, AK - 2, MI - 20, MN - 15, NY - 1, OH - 1, Ontario - 4, Quebec - 2, WI - 8, WY - 1

Ryan Redington is one of the teams from Alaska. Ryan's grandfather, Joe Redington, is credited with starting the world-famous Iditarod. The Redington family is famous in mushing circles and Ryan may bring some interesting competition to the trails.


The CopperDog 150 pro-class is designed to appeal to all types of serious mushers. Our purse pays out very well for the top 5 finishers ($6200, $4800, $3600, $2600, $1800) which attracts highly competitive teams that think they can place first. But we also have solid payouts all the way down to 10th place, which covers travel costs and dog food, a fair trade for a hobby musher.

All mushers, pro or hobby, run dogs because they love the sport. They love the dogs, they love the trail, they love the challenge. Many mushers have day jobs just like the people who plan the CopperDog 150. Some mushers devote more time and energy to being very competitive. These mushers tend (but not always) to have larger kennels and are able to field multiple teams. It's not uncommon for a large kennel to have 40-80 dogs. These kennels can win serious money if they have a great season of competition. This buys a lot of dog food.


The race is actually closer to 137 miles. Mileage changes a little each year as we explore different trail options. At first I thought it was really important to make the CopperDog 150 exactly 150 miles, but we have learned over the years that the actual mileage is just not that important. What is important is a solid, safe trail that we can maintain through the entire winter, so come race weekend the conditions are perfect for dog paws.

Teams in our race typically run between 9.5 and 13.8 miles per hour. The distance of each stage varies between 39 and 50 miles. Dog teams take anywhere between 3.5 and 4.5 hours to complete each stage, depending on weather and trail conditions.


Good question. In many respects we are still newbies and still learning the ropes. We feel the same growing pains as any organization as we learn about ourselves, what we are about, and what we are not about. Our focus has been on community vitality and calling the world's attention to our comunity. We've also taken an interest in educating kids, families, and everyone on the time honored tradition of mushing. Mushing really has a rich history and we are all learning more every day.

As for the race itself, we will grow it - not by adding more teams to the competition, but by developing a festival around the race. Calumet and the Keweenaw have much to offer. When people come to the race and are exposed to our beautiful region, they come back with their families in the off season. (Actually an on-season if wonderful summer activities is what someone is seeking.)

posted on 12/20/2012 7:24 AM by Todd Brassard | permalink | Back to Top

Event Integrity

From the business perspective, the CopperDog 150 (CD150) is a subcommittee of the promotions committee of Main Street Calumet, a Michigan non-profit organization, operating under Section 501 (c)(3) of the IRS code.  Within the CD150 are six committees of which Finance/Liability is one.  Our committee strives to work closely with Main Street Calumet to keep track of the CopperDog 150 financial and legal obligations in accordance with their requirements.

Putting on the CopperDog 150 (or any event) requires financial integrity.  That is what our sponsors, donors, volunteers, participants and the public expect in addition to planning an exciting race and race-related activities.  Through careful budgeting and cash flow considerations, the CD150 is strong and continues to grow.   Working with the financial and legal aspects of the event, which includes proper money management, trail permits, insurance, etc. has helped us develop the process and procedures that can assure growth (as well as a lot of fun).

As our Race Director Todd Brassard has so eloquently said time and again, “nobody gets paid a dime for planning or working on this race.  The entire organization is made up of volunteers who are committed to the success of our home towns.”  The community vitality generated by the CD150 promotes a positive image of downtown Calumet, our Eagle Harbor and Copper Harbor checkpoints as well as the trail system we are so fortunate to have in the Keweenaw.

In order for all of us to have a successful event requires sponsorship and donations.  With less than one month to race day, we still need to raise more funds in order to have the best-yet sled dog race in the copper country.  We have many ideas that can enhance race weekend in March and in future years, but it does take money and support from all of us—businesses and government, organizations, volunteers, and the public.   Knowing what it takes to put on this event gives each of us the opportunity to see how we can help improve our community vitality, build our community pride and have a good time doing it.

Personally, I have been involved with the Copper Dog 150 for the last three years and on our committee’s board as chair of the Finance and Liability Committee for seven months.  I had the opportunity to sit in on many of the CD committee meetings during the planning for the 2011 race as well as this year.  My background includes serving in various volunteer management positions with many non-profit organizations including the NCAA Frozen Four local organizing committee, NCAA Final Four local organizing committee, Super Bowl XL Host Committee, the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, Junior Olympics, etc., as well as many years in public television.  These experiences have provided me an overall perspective, as well as the day-to-day business needs, of planning, developing and executing a major event. 

It is the Copper Dog 150 and these types of events that involve individuals from all parts of our community irrespective of their own personal background.  It is something that brings us together and helps us get to know, appreciate and respect one another and our individual talents—all things essential to developing community vitality.

posted on 2/3/2012 12:38 AM by Todd Brassard | permalink | Back to Top

Keweenaw Detachment #1016 Marine Corps

This MCL Detachment was chartered about ten years ago, (May 1999) by local Houghton County  former Marines.  Our purpose is “To serve and aid Marines, their families, Veterans and local community, through promoting and observing the principles and purpose of the Marine Corps League.”  We serve the Houghton /Baraga/Keweenaw/Ontonagon Counties and aid as necessary other counties.

We are the largest of the five Marine Corps League Detachments in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  As part of the National and Department of Michigan Marine Corps League, we are a tax exempt, not for profit organization, and have access to some help from them to achieve our local goals.

The Keweenaw Detachment #1016, is an organization primarily made up of men and women who have honorably served or still serve our country in the United States Marine Corps. They range from Marine veterans of the present War on Terrorism  to WWII Marines.  The Detachment also welcomes, (and has), Associate Members from other branches of the military as well as non veterans who support our goals.

The Keweenaw Detachment provides assistance to all Veterans with benefit questions or concerns by establishing proper avenues of contact for them and their families and has provided direct help during times of distress and offers the continuing comradeship of the brotherhood of Marines.       We aid as much as possible the hospitalized veterans in Iron Mountain, in the D.J.Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette, through the “Marines Helping Marines” program, as well as sending packages to our local active duty Marines in harms way.

We have Detachment Scholarships which are now being given out.

Our newsletter is provided to all members and includes information on the happenings of the detachment and other affairs of interest to the detachment. Our members also receive a National Marine Corps League “SEMPER FI” Magazine and a State Magazine the “Michigan Marine News”.

The detachment has, in the past, participated and won some awards in the National MCL Rifle/Pistol Postal Matches where shooters have their scores entered in the national competition, but due to a very busy schedule we do not participate in the shooting match every year.

We have annually a Detachment Picnic in the summer, and a Marine Corps Birthday Party in November.

Our Color Guard/Honor Guard participates in many parades and ceremonies throughout the year.  A full military funeral service is available to all Marines through our Color Guard/Honor Guard. Our members also lend support to the Copper Country Veterans Assoc. with their veteran funeral service activities throughout the area at many funerals.

The Keweenaw Detachment has supported the United States Marine Corps Reserve “Toys for Tots” program throughout all four counties for the past ten years as we are the Official Local Community Organization for the “Toys for Tots”.  The “Toys for Area Youth” Fund Drive has been established by the detachment to provide necessary items to complete wish lists for the “Toys for Tots” program, and to provide funds as needed during the year for children’s needs when called for. This fund has been “tapped” during the years several times.

The Keweenaw Detachment has helped within the community when a call for assistance is made whether  for the raising of funds or of physical help, and we have also been supportive of other Veteran Organizations.

Every year we place over 1200 United States flags on veterans graves at the Forest Hill Cemetery above Houghton before Memorial Day, where they remain until after the 4th of July.

Since our area youth are very important, the detachment offers assistance to the Cub Scouts/Boy Scouts and there is the availability of a Young Marines program, a Physical Fitness program, also H.S. band awards to area schools.  The fitness program scores are on the accomplishments of all children.

Our only limitation is the manpower and time to do all that we would like to do.

To become a Member -or- Associate Member of our Detachment, a Marine veteran or another person who supports our goals, is only required to pay a yearly dues of $30.00.  A Life Membership with the costs scaled according to age is also available to members in good standing.

Detachment meetings are 7:00pm, the third Thursday of the month, normally at the VFW hall in South Range.

For more information, visit our web site at

posted on 2/18/2012 8:26 AM by Todd Brassard | permalink | Back to Top

Aerial Photography

We were very fortunate this year to have a very unique vantage point of the race over Brockway Mountain.  Photographer and pilot Richard Anderson spend his Sunday morning circling in the skies over Brockway to capture these great shots like this one.  We have more shots like this one coming.  

Abbey's Glass Paw Prints

What's a small town race to do?

Every day brings new and unexpected challenges when planning an epic event like the CopperDog 150 sled-dog race.  This year has certainly not been the exception.

When we learned that we would not be able to borrow fencing from the local university (because the fencing is in use for a ski race) for the downtown Calumet start, there was silence around the board table. The silence was not surprise because the downtown start requires almost 1 mile of snow fence to enclose the starting chute on 5th Street; this was a serious hurdle to overcome.

What's a small town race to do? 

Well, the only the we could.  After researching all of the options, downtown Calumet Start Coordinator and Director of Main Street Calumet, Tom Tikkanen said, "Well, we're just going to have to build our own."

A last minute board vote by e-mail approved the $2,000.00 of materials necessary to build the fencing system. This is a large amount of money for our limited budget, but the idea of having our own fencing was exciting. One less problem for next year. If we could solve just one problem a year, future races should get easier to plan and execute.

Yesterday after work I stopped by the garage where David Rhealt was hard at work cutting and drilling the lumber that will eventually add up to almost a mile of fence support.  One of the great things about working with people like Tom and David is you know the job is going to get done and done well.

Why is the snow fence so important anyway?

It really comes down to control and safety. Watching these mushers start downtown is very exciting, but its also a competition. The fencing help the dogs see their path and not be distracted by all of the spectators hooping it up for the race teams.

posted on 2/25/2011 1:10 PM by Todd Brassard | permalink | Back to Top

Heikki Lunta, Finish Snow God

Hey everyone... just received a message from Brad King our Volunteer Coordinator who lives up in Keweenaw County...

It looks like Heikki Lunta, the Finnish snow god, is a fan of dogsled racing. We woke up to 6 inches of the white stuff here in Keweenaw County this morning. Funny: "stuff" is not my usual four-letter for this type of weather event, but with the race coming up my outlook has changed!
- Brad

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