New "Chief Musher" Selected at Denali National Park and Preserve

Jen Raffaeli "hopping" one of Denali's sled dogs back to its kennel slot after a sled dog demonstration.

Jen Raffaeli "hopping" one of Denali's sled dogs back to its kennel slot after a sled dog demonstration. NPS photo.

There's no doubt you have a great job when the top dogs at Denali National Park and Preserve take orders from you. In this case over two dozen sled dogs answer to the "chief musher," and the park has announced its selection for the person who will fill that job.

Back in November, the Traveler reported that Denali was looking for the right person to fill the job of kennels manager. That's the official title for what could also be described as the park's "chief musher," and the job is both demanding and unique. A selection has been made for the position, and the lady has some very impressive qualifications.

Jennifer Raffaeli of Fox, Alaska, will come on board in mid-April as Denali National Park and Preserve’s kennels manager, the only job of its kind in the national park system.

Although it will be a new position for Raffaeli, she is no stranger to the park. She has worked for the past two summers as a park ranger-interpreter in the East District, and as part of her regular duties led the popular sled dog interpretive presentations.

Jennifer brings to her new position a wealth of mushing, wilderness guiding, backcountry travel, and environmental education experience. She has worked as a handler or guide with sled dog operations in Alaska, Minnesota, and the northern Sierra Nevada in California, and has been an instructor with a variety of wilderness trekking and environmental education programs, including Outward Bound, Leave No Trace, Yosemite Institute, and Environmental Traveling Companions.

She is married to Michael Raffaeli, a seasonal interpretive ranger, who is also an avid musher and adventurer

This musher has plenty of other outdoor experience, too.

One of her passions is rafting, and she has completed some major personal wilderness expeditions in Alaska, including an eight-day long first packraft descent of the Bull River, continuing downstream on the West Fork Chulitna and Chulitna Rivers, and a fifteen-day trip on the HulaHula River from the Brooks Range to the Beaufort Sea, passing through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Her expeditions haven’t been limited to roadless wilderness, as in 2001 she completed a two-month, 2,500 mile, self-supported bicycle expedition from Alaska to Minnesota.

While she was waiting on the outcome of her application for the job at Denali, she's been keeping her skills with the dogs sharp.

Jennifer is currently spending a second winter dog handling for musher Ken Anderson of Fox, and has been very busy preparing for her rookie run in this year’s Yukon Quest, which started February 6th in Fairbanks, and makes a 1,000 mile run to Whitehorse, in Canada's Yukon Territory. She completed the Copper Basin 300 sled dog race in January 2010.

The sled dogs are both an important "tool" for the park staff and a visitor attraction in their own right. The park website includes some good information about the kennel operation and the use of sled dogs at Denali.

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