It used to be Everest.
Doug Ferraro is a climber, and his bucket list was once topped by the dream of scaling the world’s highest mountain.
“Then came the dogs,” Ferraro said Thursday, from his home south of Victor.
Actually his oldest child came first.
It was Aiyana, now 17 but then 8, who struck the match that lit the fire that flamed into what Dad calls the Ferraro family's "all-consuming" passion for sled dog mushing.
“It was her thing, we just went with it," Doug Ferraro said. "It’s a way of life now.”
His wife Jennifer and Aiyana’s three younger brothers – Jeremiah, Kai and Noah – have all caught the bug too.
“We can barely pay the mortgage, but we won’t give it up for nothing. That’s just the way it is,” said Doug.
Aiyana was 12 years old, a year younger than the minimum, when she received a waiver to compete in the first Junior 100 of the Montana Race to the Sky in 2010.
He’s 47, and Doug Ferraro enters the first dog sled race of his life Saturday night when the 2015 Race to the Sky begins near Seeley Lake. He has his sights set on the Everest of the sport – Alaska’s 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail race.
“I’m going to probably do it in two years, and I would love for me and Aiyana to both be able to rookie year that together,” he said.
His daughter raced in the Junior Iditarod last year, and she’s already a veteran of four Race to the Sky 100-mile competitions and the winner in 2013. She had a breakthrough third-place finish a couple of weeks ago at the Eagle Cap Extreme 200 in the Wallowa Valley of Oregon.
A junior at Corvallis High School, she's entered in her longest race yet, the Race to the Sky 300, in which she seeks to become the youngest “long race” winner.
Her mentor, Jessie Royer of Darby, has held that title since 1994, when she won what was then a 500-mile marathon. Royer was 17 and five months old; Ferraro is two months younger.
Two years ago, Royer helped another 17-year-old understudy to victory. Alea Robinson of Alaska was two months shy of 18 at the time.
Montana’s other teen wunderkind, Jenny Greger of Bozeman, captured the 350-miler last year at 18 after winning the Junior 100 twice.
Greger, a freshman at Montana State University, followed a more traditional path into the sport. Her father Rob is an Iditarod veteran who with wife Cara started a kennel near Bozeman before Jenny was born. Both are longtime volunteers for Race to the Sky.
Doug Ferrarro's been on Aiyana's team, and often on her training sled, since the get-go.
"I'd let her run a 16-dog team and sit on the basket for weight," he said. "I was just like her emergency brake. That's a lot of dogs for a 90-pounder."
He's jumped into the mushing game himself "just because the opportunity was there," Ferraro said. "We have enough dogs around and now Aiyana's going to be running under Jessie's wing."
When the weather-ravaged race begins Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Morrell Creek Trailhead, Ferraro won’t be the only competitor who’s there because of his kid.
Garrett Warren, 21, and Trevor Warren, 18, of Council, Idaho, both preceded their mom, Laurie, into the sport. She just registered a second-place finish in the Eagle Cap Extreme 100, a minute ahead of Garrett. Trevor took first in the two-day pot race of the same event.
The winner of the Eagle Cap 200 was Brett Bruggeman, a 44-year-old endodontist and falconer from Great Falls.
It was just three years ago that his 10-year-old son Spencer broached the subject of getting into the dog sled racing game after reading Jack London’s “Call of the Wild.” Along with wife/mom Suzette, they formed Skinny Leg Sleddogs kennel and leaped into the fray.
Brett entered the 2013 Race to the Sky 350 and earned the Red Lantern award as the last team to finish after becoming hypothermic on the final leg.
Last year, he and his team of Doug Swingley-bred Alaskan huskies placed third, less than two hours behind Greger and runner-up Laura Daugereau of Stockett.
Spencer, now 13, was forced to withdraw from his first Junior 100 last year. He’s back in the same race this time and again the lone entrant.
This is far from the first time weather and snow conditions have wreaked havoc on Race to the Sky, which was scrapped altogether 10 years ago for those reasons.
Friday’s commemorative run at Camp Rimini near Helena was deep-sixed early in the week, and Saturday’s starting line was moved from near Lincoln to the Morrell Creek Trailhead north of Seeley Lake.
The starting time was also moved, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, in part to take advantage of cooler evening temperatures.
The National Weather Service is calling for rain and temperatures in the low to mid-40s early Saturday evening. Cooler temperatures and maybe even snow are predicted for Seeley Lake on Sunday, when the 100-mile race ends, and on Monday afternoon/evening, when the winner of the 300-miler should cross.
Both races end at the Seeley Lake Community Center on Highway 83, just north of town.