Meet the Team

Eleanor Wirts

Eleanor Wirts

Owner - Just Short of Magic

Eleanor started running sled dogs in Vermont in the mid 1990s and soon fell head over heals in love with dog mushing, the thrill of driving a team, and the joy of raising and training puppies. Within a year she was the proud owner of twelve sled dogs, all of whom she had either raised and trained as pups or collected from the animal shelter. One winter of racing made it clear to Eleanor that recreational mushing was more naturally her style; she also longed for bigger open spaces and a world where dog mushing was king. She came to Alaska in the spring of 2003 to work as a musher on the glaciers in Southeast, Alaska. A summer camp of 200 Alaskan huskies and a dozen mushers and handlers guided tourists around the glaciers in the basket of a dog sled. It was the time of their lives.  She went on to teach high school science in a small rural Eskimo village on the Bering Sea. This time she was able to combine the rewards of teaching with the thrill of having a dog team in the wilds of Alaska… ( Read Eleanor’s Full Bio…)

Darrin Lee

Darrin Lee

Dog Mushing Guide

Owner/ Operator KMA Kennels

Darrin moved to Alaska in 1993 from Colorado after completing his History degree to attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks. After completing his education degree, he took a job as a Middle School teacher in the Yupik village of St. Michael.  It is here where he started working with Alaskan huskies. Over the next 20 years he has been a teacher, a carpenter, and gold miner to support his dog team. During this period of time he participated in over 30 dog races including three Yukon Quests and nine Copper Basin 300’s.  In the winter, he and his 14 dogs share his love of the mushing lifestyle with guests from around the world while working as a tour guide for Just Short of Magic.

Darrin has been a guide with JSoM since 2016.

 

Matt Hall

Matt Hall

Dog Mushing Guide

Owner/ Operator Smoking’ Ace Kennels

Matt started Smokin’Ace Kennels in 2008 with a deep desire to raise his own dogs and race long distance sled dog races. As a jack of all trades Matt makes the kennel go ‘round by hauling water and firewood, fixing and building everything that is needed for the 40-acre, off-grid, homestead he and his 31 dogs share. He was born and raised in the Bush of Alaska in the small town of Eagle on the Yukon River. His family relied on sled dogs for transportation, income, sport and companionship therefore he was immersed from his first days of life with dog mushing and a subsistence life style. These influences lead Matt to racing many mid and long distance races. Most notably a win in 2017 of the 1,000 mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race followed by a second-place finish in 2018. He also ran the Iditarod as a rookie in 2018 with a mere 2-week rest between the two 1,000 mile races and placed 11th in Iditarod.

Matt also has a long history as a mushing guide; 11 summers shared between the ice fields of Juneau and Skagway giving sled dogs rides on glaciers to tourists. Matt and his dogs joined JSoM for two winters, 2015-2017 and is returning for the 2019-20 season.

Shaynee Traska

Shaynee Traska

Dog Mushing Guide

Co-Owner/ Operator Howlin’ Ridge Kennels

Shaynee started her sled dog kennel in Gladwin, Michigan when she was fourteen years old after begging her parents to let her have a team of sled dogs. At the early age of 9 she told them she wanted to race the Iditarod someday. Over the years, she began breeding her own dogs as it was her dream to run the Iditarod with a team she had raised herself. Prior to moving to Alaska in 2012, Shaynee raced in many shorter races in Michigan in preparation for the ultimate 1,000-mile sled dog race she had dreamed of.

Shaynee met Jeremy in 2012 not long after moving to Alaska and by the fall of 2014 they were married and combined their kennels to form Howling Ridge Kennel. Today it consists of 44 working sled dogs. In the past 5 years of racing they have received multiple Vet Choice Awards and Sportsmanship Awards, all of which attest to the superb care, treatment and training of their dogs. Shaynee’s dream of running Iditarod came true in March 2018 when she not only completed the race in under 14 days, but in a year when the weather was recorded as one of the worst in the history of Iditarod. A true testament to her determination and the skill of her many fine dogs.

Shaynee has been a mushing guide for 8 years. In the summer she and Jeremey relocate from Two Rivers, Alaska to Juneau with their dogs to work as mushing guides on the ice fields. In the winter when not racing and training she also guides for JSoM. She joined us in 2015.

Jeremy Traska

Jeremy Traska

Dog Mushing Guide

Co-Owner/ Operator Howlin’ Ridge Kennels

Jeremy was introduced to dog mushing in 2009 when he began working for a sled dog tour company in Juneau, Alaska while also pursuing a college degree in Mathematics. His passion for training sled dogs grew so in 2013 he decided to leave college and began training dogs of his own. During this time, he had also met Shaynee whom he soon married in 2014. She too was an avid dog musher so together they combined their dogs to form Howling Ridge Kennel. Together they are dedicating their lives to raising a team of athletes while also both working as professional dog mushing guides and racers.

In the past few years Jeremy has been racing a number of qualifying mid-distance races in preparation for participating in the 1,000 mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. In 2019 he completed the notoriously difficult Copper Basin 300 in 12th place and in 2017 he completed the Two Rivers 200 in 5th place. He was also awarded the Veterinarian’s Choice Award for the best dog care during this race.

Jeremy has been a dog mushing guide for 11 years. Along with Shaynee he spends his summers on the ice fields in Juneau giving sled dog rides to tourists while in the winter he does the same with JSoM. He joined us in 2014.

Elke Konetski

Elke Konetski

Dog Handler / Administrative Assistant

Born and raised in Austin Texas, Elke had her first dog mushing experience in Minnesota and never looked back, all the way to Alaska. She had worked with horses in both english and western riding but neither discipline was comparable to her passion for sled dogs and the sport of dog mushing. She completed her undergraduate degree in psychology from Texas State University at San Marcos in August 2019 and promptly moved to Fairbanks, Alaska where she had landed a job at Just Short of Magic. Within a month she had fallen in love with a lovely little sled dog named Silver who had retired in the spring of 2019 after 7 years as a working dog at JSoM. Silver was very ready for the comforts of a home and the love of a single woman. They have become fast friends. Elke is thrilled with her move to Fairbanks and her dream of pursuing a life in this beautiful world of dog mushing. The athleticism, determination and pure joy of these dogs has made Alaska home for her.  

Elke is fully trained in all aspects of JSoM, dog handling, guest engagement, administrative know-how and overall Q & A for guests and tour operators.

Mandy McMenemy

Mandy McMenemy

Dog Handler / Administrative Assistant

Mandy grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. She went to college at UNC-Chapel Hill for Cultural Anthropology and Studio Art. She graduated in May 2018 and a month later started a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, a 2190-mile footpath from Maine to Georgia. She completed her walk in 5 months and though an enormous accomplishment it’s termination left Mandy with a void that needed attention and love she felt only a dog could fill. She found a 3-month-old Shepard/Husky mix who needed as much love as Mandy had to offer and soon they became fast friends. Mandy also knew she wanted cold and snow in her life again, so she accepted a job offer with Just Short of Magic. Within 6 weeks she and her puppy Midnight were on the road to Fairbanks. Outside of working with sled dogs Mandy enjoys reading and writing–especially with a strong cup of coffee in hand. She hopes to try skijoring with Midnight this winter.

Mandy is fully trained in all aspects of JSoM, dog handling, guest engagement, administrative know-how and overall Q & A for guests and tour operators.

Heloise Chenelot

Heloise Chenelot

Senior Dog Handler / Administrative Manager

Heloise grew up in France and moved to Fairbanks, Alaska 20 years ago for graduate school. She graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a Master’s degree in Biological Oceanography. She fell in love with Alaska, its wilderness and its way of life, right away. She worked at the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, UAF, for 10 years, conducting research in nearshore algal and invertebrate communities. She was very fortunate to explore and dive in some of the most remote and spectacular places along Alaska’s coast from Prince William Sound to the Aleutian Islands, the Bering Sea and under Arctic Ice. 

Outside of work, Heloise and her husband Frank enjoy spending time with their 3 Alaskan huskies Keta, Bear-Bear and Sadie. They also enjoy playing hockey and spending time fishing in Prince William Sound. On their spare time, they are working on ‘modernizing’ a Mongolian Yurt and building a log house.

Heloise joined Just Short of Magic in 2016. She truly enjoys the time she spends with the dogs and she strives to make sure that the guests have an unforgettable experience at Just Short of Magic. The more time she spends with the dogs, the more she appreciates how amazing and special every single dog is.  

Heloise is our Administrative Manager and overall go-to person at Just Short of Magic. She has a broad and thorough understanding of every aspect of the business, knows each dog as an individual, is extremely guest-centered in her care and attention of visitors and works directly with all of our tour operators in all capacities.

It's All About the Sled Dogs

Dog mushers love their sled dogs.

 It’s as plain and simple as that. We know each and every one of our dogs as intimately as parents know their children. We know each individual bark just like a parent knows their child’s voice, we know the minute somebody isn’t feeling just quite right by the way they tip an ear or don’t wag their tail or have an odd expression, we know the minute a sled dog’s gait isn’t just right by the way their shoulders/hips move just a bit differently or their tail hangs in an odd way, we know when they’re happy by their jumps and their barks, their smiles and their howls. It is a special relationship mushers have with their hard working canine friends and we do everything, day and night, to be sure they are comfortable, loved, safe, and ready to run….the very thing they love to do the most.

People often think we make our dogs run. It is no different than leading a horse to water. You cannot make a horse drink water; we can not make our sled dogs run. Huskies run because it’s in their blood. This is what they are bred and born to do. Just as a bird dog goes on point and flushes birds, huskies run and pull. When it is time to hook up for a run the dog yard erupts with the din of barking and jumping, eager dogs ready to go. Many stuff their nose and legs into their harness all on their own as if to say, “Here I am! I’m ready to go!”  If any dog is left behind they sulk and whine, desperate to join the team. When a team of sled dogs are tired they will stop and lie down and will not go any further. Ask any racer who has known the frustration of an entire team that stops and curls up in the middle of a race. They just have to wait until their dogs are ready to run again.

Dog mushers care for their dogs seven days a week 365 days a year and for most it’s twice a day, every morning and every evening. Feeding and cleaning the yard is a daily chore that get’s done regardless of the weather or our other daily demands. In winter we cook a hot soup of meat, fat, kibble and water. We add straw to every house on chilly nights. We snuggle and play with them. We talk with them and cry with them. These dogs are for many our family or at the very least an important part of the human family and are cared for just as any family member would be.

For many we forgo vacations and trips because of our commitment to daily sled dog care. For many we could be driving a Mercedes Benz with the dog food payment we make each month. For many we live too far out of town to have a social life because we live where the dogs can run. For many we buy a new harness before we buy a new jacket. For many our dogs come first…every day of the year. So you can put to rest your worries about the quality of care mushers provide for their dogs; it is a relationship like no other.

Mushers love their sled dogs