While covering over 1,000 miles on a dog sled in only a matter of days in whiteout conditions is certainly awe-inspiring, designing and building lightweight carrying vessels by hand that can withstand demanding Alaskan winter terrain while transporting a human is equally impressive.
As a builder of Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race sleds, retired Alaska Airlines pilot Bernie Willis knows a thing or two about building flexible all-wood sleds that are lightweight and designed to be easy to repair on the trail if things should go awry.
“Wisdom comes as a result of dealing with mistakes,” he explains. “Building sleds is one thing. Maintaining them is a whole different beast.”
From his rural farm in Wasilla, Alaska, Willis spends his retired days in his workshop blending art and science to build the perfect dog sled. In previous years of the famous dog sled race, roughly a third of the Iditarod race mushers – mainly top contenders – were riding sleds built by Willis. To date, Willis has crafted over 500 dog sleds since he built his first at age 16 in his high school shop class.
In this recently released video from the International Wood Culture Society (IWCS), Willis gives a behind the scenes look into his workshop and how he approaches his craft with new insight even after 50 years: