Summary of "Winterdance" by Gary Paulsen

by Rob Kemmett

"Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod" is a memoir written by Gary Paulsen that tells of his experience in the Alaskan Iditarod, a dog sledding race. The book covers his journey from beginning to end, from the moment he began training to the moment he finished the race.

Training and Starting the Race

Paulsen begins his tale by describing the Iditarod and what it entails. The Iditarod lasts over 1,150 miles, and takes 15 to 17 days. To prepare for the lengthy race and make sure he could make it through the two-week trek, Paulsen trains to increase his endurance. The race begins, and Paulsen sets off with his team of 15 dogs.


The Alaskan climate is cold and harsh; survival is difficult when you're out on your own. Paulsen details the conditions of the race path and notes the difficulties the climate caused. Paulsen grows tired as the snowy, windy and cold weather beats upon him. The dogs, which he originally viewed as tools to pull his sled, slow become much more to him. Paulsen realizes that no matter how tired and hungry he gets, he has to push forward for the dogs.

Who Needs Whom?

As the race continues and he bonds more with the dogs, Paulsen takes notice that the dogs need him as much as he needs them. Without the dogs, Paulsen's sled would not be able to move. Without Paulsen, the dogs wouldn't have food, shelter or human contact. To Paulsen, companionship was as important as food and water. Without it, he felt as if neither he nor the dogs would've survived.

The Finish (Spoiler)

Paulsen and his dogs take 17 days to complete the race. He doesn't come in first, but he doesn't feel as if he lost. In the end, Paulsen realizes that he won the trust, companionship and lifelong respect of the dogs that pulled his sled. He realizes that the dogs earned the same from him as well.

About the Author

Rob Kemmett began writing professionally in 2010 and specializes in writing about food and hospitality. Kemmett has worked in various fine-dining restaurants throughout his career and holds an Associate of Applied Science in Le Cordon Bleu culinary arts from the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago.