What Those Mushing Words Mean

Vocabulary Word List  – Mushing Terms:

ATV:  All terrain vehicle.  (You might also hear the word 4 wheeler)

Alaskan Husky:  A northern breed of dogs that have the natural traits to stay healthy in Alaska’s climate

Big Su:  Refers to the Big Susitna River
Boonies:  A non-rural or urban area, generally an area where no one lives
Booties:  A type of sock that is made to protect the dog’s feet from small cuts and sores. These were originally  made out of various materials, i.e., denim, polar fleece, trigger cloth, etc. and are now made out of more enduring materials such as cordura. 
Burled Arch:  The finish line in Nome. 
By-Pass Mail:  Service provided by US Mail System for remote villages to get mail and goods delivered. By-Pass Mail has been used to ship everything from toilet paper to refrigerators.
COMMS:  Volunteers who work in the area of communications.  Their main job is to facilitate communications from headquarters to checkpoints or checkpoints to headquarters. COMMS volunteers are responsible to send the race data (musher in times, number of dogs, out times) from the checkpoints to Race Stats volunteers who have the responsibility to update the racer’s progress.  COMMS volunteers who are on the trail work long shifts and along with race communications, often must help check mushers into checkpoints, park teams, and even cook or make coffee for those at the checkpoint.
Come Gee! Come Haw!  Commands for 180 degree turns in either direction.
Dog in Basket:  dog being carried in the sled
Double Lead:  Two dogs who lead the team side by side.
Dropped Dog:  A dog that the musher has dropped from his team at a checkpoint. The dog is cared for by a team of veterinarians at the checkpoint until it is flown back to Anchorage to the musher’s handlers.  Once arriving in Anchorage, dropped dogs are cared for by veterinarians and vet techs until the dogs are picked up by a musher’s family dog handlers
Gangline: The line (cable) that connects the sled to the team of dogs.
Gee:  Command for right turn

GPS Tracker: Devices that are attached to the sleds and provide location data on each musher.

Haw:  Command for left turn
Heet:  Alcohol based fuel used by mushers in their cook stoves on the trail.

Hike! All Right! Let’s Go!  Commands to start the team

Husky:  Any northern type dog.
Indian Dog:  An Alaskan Husky from an Indian village.
Last Frontier:  Alaska’s State motto. Alaska was the last frontier in the United States
Lead Dog or Leader:  Dog who runs in front of others. Generally must be both intelligent and fast.
Line Out!  Command to lead dog to pull the team out straight from the sled. Used mostly while hooking dogs into team or unhooking them.
Malamute:  Term often used by old timers for any sled dog. Larger husky

Mush!  Traditionally, ‘Mush!’ was considered to be a phrase used to get a dog team moving forward.  Mush is rarely used today but when reading short stories or books, you may find the term used.  The more common words such as: Hike! Let’s go! or a whistle or vocal sound – are commands to start the team.   Mushers don’t really need to say anything to the team to get them to go, when they feel the pull (release) of the sled hook or whatever is holding them in place, they are off and running.   Mush is some times also used as a general term to mean – moving forward. 

Musher: The person who drives the dog team. Mushers are also called drivers.

Mushing: The art of driving a dog team.  Let’s go mushing!  (Driving a team or riding in the sled.)

Neck Line:  Line that connects dog’s collar to tow line and between the two collars of a double lead.
Outside:  Any place in the lower 48 states.
Overflow:  When the ice gets so thick that the water has nowhere to go, it pushes up and over the ice. This overflow often gets a thin layer of ice when the temperature drops making it dangerous to cross.
Pacing:  Leading a team with some sort of motorized vehicle that can set the ‘pace’ at a specific speed.
Pedaling:  Pushing the sled with one foot while the other remains on the runner
Rigging:  Collection of lines to which dogs are attached. Includes tow line, tug lines and neck lines
Rookie:  A musher who is running the race for the first time or who has never completed the race

Route:  The direction or the trail one is following.  In the even years (2016, 2018, 2020) the northern route is taken.  In the odd years (2017, 2019, 2021) the southern route is taken.  However, the route on any year may be changed in order to make sure the route is the safest route for dogs and mushers.   View route information here.

Runners:  The two bottom pieces of the sled which come in contact with the snow. They extend back of the basket for the driver to stand on. Runner bottoms are usually wood, covered with plastic or Teflon. This plastic or Teflon comes in direct contact with the trail.  It is usually replaced if damaged or different kinds of trail conditions call for different kinds of runner plastic.
Siberian Husky:  Medium sized (average 50 pounds) northern breed of dog, recognized by the American Kennel Club. Siberians usually have blue eyes
Slats:  Thin strips of wood which make up the bottom of a wooden sled basket. Modern day sleds have a more stable bottom such as a sheet of plastic as the bottom for their basket
Snow Hook or Ice Hook:  Heavy piece of metal attached to sled by line. The snow hook is embedded in the snow in order to hold the team and sled for a short period of time.  Mushers often carry more than one snow hook.  Snow hooks are used to hold a sled in place, not to stop a moving sled.  Think of it as an emergency break.
Snub Line:  Rope attached to the sled which is used to tie the sled to a tree or other object
Stake:  Metal or wooden post driven into the ground to which dog is tied
Swing Dog or Dogs:  Dog that runs directly behind the leader and are further identified as right or left swing depending on which side of the tow line the dog is positioned.  The dog’s  job is to help “swing” the team during  the turns or curves.
Team Dog:  Any dog other than those described above.
Termination Dust:  The first snow that covers the top of the mountain in the fall,  called so because this is a sign of the termination of summer in Alaska.
Tether Line:  A long, strong line out system with shorter pieces of strong line extending from it that are used to stake out a team securely and safely.
Toggles:  Small pieces of ivory or wood used by Eskimos to fasten tug lines to harnesses  – Today toggles may be made of different kinds of materials, such as a strong plastic

Tow Line: More commonly called gangline, is a long line or coated cable that is attached to the sled and runs the length of the team to the front leaders.  All dogs are attached on either side of the gangline by tug lines.  This is the main connection that allows the dogs to pull the sled safely.

Trail!:  Request for right-of-way on the trail which means that the driver in front must yield to the driver wanting to pass
Tug Line:  Line that connects dog’s harness to the tow line.

Veterinarian – Doctors that provide medical care to the dogs before, during, and after the race.  These doctors are experts in their field of veterinarian medicine.  The dogs are priority 1 and teams of veterinarians are staged at the start, restart, and every checkpoint during the race.  Dogs of the Iditarod go through medical exams prior to the race to make sure they are healthy and meet the standards of good health or they are not allowed to race

Wasilla:  A city in Alaska and the home of the Iditarod Trail Committee Headquarters

Wheel Dogs or Wheelers:  Dogs placed directly in front of the sled. Their job is to pull the sled out and around corners or trees and are generally considered to be the strongest dogs on the team
Whoa!:  Command used to halt the team, accompanied by heavy pressure on the drag brake

*Checkpoint Pronunciations can be found at this link.

*Lesson Ideas:

Use the above words to build vocabulary during the months before the Iditarod.  Knowing the meanings of these words or phrases well in advance of the race will provide base knowledge about the race so students can gain the maximum learning from Iditarod educational experiences.

Use words from the above list as extra spelling words or bonus words.

Challenge students to work in small groups or independently to create books, presentations, or posters demonstrating the meaning of the above words.

Challenge students to write articles, short stories, or poems, using words from the above list.

Challenge students to create educational ‘news casts’ – to demonstrate the meaning of words from the list.