Racing Across the Arctic

Alumnus Finds Career as Professional Dog-Sled Racer and Trainer

Dre and team get ready for a training run.Dre Langefeld ’14 likes to joke that she double majored in both biology and in the Outdoor Programs division of Campus Rec. “If I wasn’t in the lab, you could find me outside leading trips or prepping for the next one,” she said.

It was perhaps inevitable, then, that Langefeld found her career in the great outdoors. What started as an extra animal-care responsibility tacked on to a summer ranger internship at Gates of the Arctic National Park has evolved into a full-time occupation as a professional dog-sled racer and trainer with Vidda Runners in Langfjordbotn, Norway.

It’s a dream come true, Langefeld said, although the job is definitely not easy.

“I think of this career a lot like a liberal arts degree,” she said. “Believe it or not, critical thinking, creativity, and global citizenship are essential to living this crazy dog musher lifestyle. UNC Asheville really inspired me to take what I know and suit it to the adventure.”

“Arguably everything is challenging about dog-sled racing,” Langefeld said. “You are responsible for the care and well-being of eight to 16 of the most extreme athletes on the planet and you don’t even speak the same language as them.”

A typical race involves racing the Alaskan huskies up to 100-mile legs across the snow before stopping at a check point, where the dogs have a chance to rest while Langefeld prepares a hot meal for them, makes them beds from straw, massages any sore muscles they may have, and repairs the sled. It’s difficult, but worth it.

Dre shares a moment with lead dog Savea.It’s a job in which Langefeld must play a host of different roles, she said. “To the dogs I am the nurse, I’m the cook, I’m mom, I’m coach, I’m the teacher, I’m their massage therapist, I’m the human GPS, I’m the janitor, and most importantly I’m the best friend to the dogs.”

It’s the kind of job that her studies at UNC Asheville were built for.

“I think of this career a lot like a liberal arts degree,” she said. “Believe it or not, critical thinking, creativity, and global citizenship are essential to living this crazy dog musher lifestyle. UNC Asheville really inspired me to take what I know and suit it to the adventure.”

Someday, Langefeld hopes to return to her roots in scientific study—involving the dogs, of course. Until then, you’ll find her working year-round to train her dog team, educating others about the history and tradition of dog-sled racing, speeding across the snow in a week-long race, and resting in the straw with the dogs at night, watching the northern lights dance in the dark sky above them.