Portland State students develop more efficient cooker for Iditarod racers
Author: Jennifer Vo-Nguyen
Posted: May 20, 2019
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is one of the world’s most famous dog-sled races that runs  from Willow Lake to Nome in Alaska. One of the most important pieces of gear for the racers during this 1000-mile journey are their cookers, which are used to melt snow and heat water to feed and hydrate themselves and their dogs.

Tom Bennett, a  Portland State University development engineer, has been developing a more efficient cooker for racers - also known as mushers -- on the Iditarod with the help of engineering students Aimee Ritter, April Bacigalupi, Sarah Christopherson, John Siler, Sarah Smith, and Chinh Vu. Bennett and the students are trying to improve their cookers every year based on the feedback from the mushers.  

“One of the issues that the mushers have, is lighting their cooker. This year, we made improvements to the burners such as the ease of lighting it with one match, and we improved the manufacturing process after six years of working on it, Bennett said. “It looks professionally made rather than a craft project.”  

Bennett’s cookers are rectangular in shape, which makes it easier to store in a sled bag in comparison to traditional cookers which are typically round.

The cookers, which cost around $70 to manufacture, take around a week to be built. Bennett’s team makes about two cookers a year and gives them to mushers at no charge. Some mushers continue to use their cookers from previous years.

“PSU’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department has helped cover the cost for them in the recent years,” Bennett said, “and I personally funded the project for the first few years.”

So far, Bennett’s cookers has been met with great reviews from the mushers who uses them.

“The cooker’s clever engineering and smart design outperformed the old cooker in every way. It fits perfectly in my sled bag and worked great on the race.” said musher Lisbet Norris on her blog.

 Anja Radano, a racer in last year’s Iditarod, told Bennett that his PSU cooker performed very well, and that other racers were always looking and asking about it.

Bennett, who once lived in Alaska where he befriended a few mushers, has been working on this project with his students for the last six years. One of Bennett’s musher friends, Lisbet Norris, challenged him and his students to make a better cooker for her.

“This project started when I was in contact with Lisbet Norris,” Bennett said. “she told me that her cooker was a problem because it didn’t fit in her sled bag or work very well.”


Photo: Iditarod and Yukon Qwest veteran Misha Wiljes shows off her PSU Cooker.