Sofia Koepke, Team Vada, Grand County dog sled racer |

Sofia Koepke, Team Vada, Grand County dog sled racer

Sofia Koepke and her dog team in Pagosa Springs in February. They were running home to the finish line. Front: Katya and Naomi, Middle: Serenity and Badger, Back: Razzie and Pirate.
Photo by Jerry Stone |

Sofia Koepke is a Middle Park High School senior and team leader of Team Vada, a dog sled racing team out of Tabernash. The team name comes from her first lead dog. She and her team will be racing this weekend at the Grand Park Dog Days of Winter sponsored by The Rocky Mountain Sled Dog Club and Grand Park.

Koepke is the youngest and only Grand County competitor in this race.

At 2-years-old she went on a dog sled ride in Winter Park. At 11-years-old she started volunteering at the Dog Sled Rides of Winter Park. Then her love of the sport “spiraled out of control”, she said.

“Jess who owns Dog Sled Rides of Winter Park connected me with retired sled dogs,” Koepke said. “Then I got 2 more young dogs. I began to build a dog team.”

She began to learn the way of Siberian Huskies.

Koepke works with the dogs year-round. Her dogs live with her family in kennels in the back of their house. Her parents completely support her and her dogs.

“I learned quickly if I was going to keep doing this, that I would need to get younger dogs. Then as it ended up the entire team are all rescue dogs that came from California.”

Over time, she retired some of the older dogs and trained the new ones.

“Although we are not the fastest team on the trail and are hardly champions, we race with purpose. I want to show the world how amazing this sport is and how deep the bond of love and trust is between musher and dog. It’s hard to explain the overwhelming feeling you get when you stand on the back of runners of a sled flying down the trail with a team of dogs. Its like running with the wolves, and it is one of the most magical experiences.”

Koepke races throughout Colorado. She and her team recently raced in Grand Mesa, Leadville, and Pagosa Springs.

She travels with the dogs in a truck with a dog box. “All six dogs have their area in the boxes and the sled fits on top,” she said.

Her mother and father alternate driving her to races.

Koepke will train about five times a week completing 6-7 miles with the dog.

“In the morning I feed them. They rest and then I race for 6 miles. They trust me with what is going to happen,” she said.

“The dogs are my life. It’s funny, I think of them as a wolf pack; they are like a bunch of teenagers. They are the most important thing I have; more important than anything in my life. They are my family.”

Koepke plans to study animals in college and continue training with her dogs.

“My dream is to one day race in the Iditarod, the longest sled dog race in the world in Alaska.”

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