Mushers Deserve A Brake

History and evolution of brake designs with a novel idea…

There are four or five types of dog sled brakes. None of them work very well and the best can only prevent the sled from crashing into the dogs. Before the Iditarod era there were no more than three styles (not counting the Siberian pole dragged between the legs or on the side like a Telemark skier) as illustrated below in the WWII US Army sled dog field manual, Dog Transportation: the center board and the hinge variation were the most common; the slew brake was rarely seen; the rough-lock method was for use in emergencies that could be anticipated but not any help unless you saw the disaster coming and were able to stop and wrap chains or coarse rope around the runners (and limited value on glare ice.)



In the early years of the Iditarod and other mid distance races in rough terrain a common problem became obvious with the prevalent center board brake. After the first half dozen racers came down the same hill standing on the brake the rut in the middle  of the trail might be deeper than your leg from your foot to your knees. The snowmobile track brake was first introduced as a training device to make the dogs work harder and to create less damage to trails especially where distance mushers shared trails with sprinters. (Even so the sprinters complained, preferring to have perfect training trails without appreciating that racing trails were not. When the dogs were so well trained on perfect trails that they did not pay attention where they put their feet the result was metacarpal fractures if they stepped into holes or onto hard moguls.)

Around 1980 my Iditarod sled business was booming and I developed another solution, a brake with two claws, each positioned close to the corresponding runner. If there were ruts from braking the runners of following sleds would drop down into them.


The Alpirod brought mushers from around the world to experience new horrors in trail conditions; from that time on many brake systems included both double claws and rubber or plastic tracks with snowmobile carbide core studs. Often the rubber track, the “tapis,” could be lifted or dropped as needed. The photos below show a design where the two are loosely coupled to respond to different conditions, including bare pavement! On pavement the carbide studs in the track slowed the team slightly but emitted smoke and brimstone.



Here is the new idea:

Do mushers still run in conditions that need this? If you have and recognize what it’s for, let me know.




“Ice Spur” under the front of footboard functions like a slew brake


At the end of the day… no, it took more than one day… when all was said and done, uploading, editing and cropping these photos, it was as frustrating as going down a bare road in Sesto, Italy, but at least writing and publishing this post did not cost me $20,000.


9 thoughts on “Mushers Deserve A Brake

  1. I think that unknown rig straddling the runner was designed to prevent sliding out on icy corners – obviously that example was too flimsy to work – I’ve thought about ( never followed through though ) mounting a large heavy duty sharpened washer in a somewhat similar fashion as the rig in the photo – the washer was to be mounted so it would still rotate from the friction of being pressed into the ice without really slowing the sled a lot and preventing it from sliding into a fence post on a 90 degree icy corner like I’ve unfortunately done – lol

    • I did make the washer arrangement around the same time as the fixed blade. Each time it picked up splinters from exposed roots and deadfall branches or iced up then jammed so it would not rotate. For training the fixed blade was best since I wanted extra drag anyway.

      • for icy trails I’ve gone to steel edged cross country skis with lots of spring in them – they’re terrible in soft snow though – they want to go straight ahead in the corners, but on ice they carve beautifully

  2. It should be (in a more stable variation) be good for sidehilling loaded sleds, like you have often in the mountains of sweden and norway

    • Sehr Gutt, your observations. Are you a Swedish Waldschrat now Thomas?

      Should be made in working version using 3-4 mm inox. Having a blade on one side of the runner and paddle on the other could make it more stable and allow to eliminate the usual bar with two claws. I also think should be 3 mm plastic vertically between the brake blades and the aluminum or wooden runner.

      Another advantage with the fixed ice spur that I have used in training for many years, it resists turning so the sled is more likely to go to the outside of turns unless you make it go in, which usually you will not choose.

  3. Pingback: Mushing Is Not Skiing | Everything I Learned From My Sled Dogs And More!

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