I had such romantic visions of dog sledding; rugged men with snow in their beards, large snarling dogs, and a gentle ride for those reclining in the sled. I know, it’s not exactly a congruous picture, but all I had to go on were pictures on the TV.
The reality of dog sledding is a little bit different. It is an all-senses assault that takes quite a bit of strength and concentration. The night before our adventure, it snowed 2 feet in the mountains which changed the experience enormously. We had a tougher time getting to and from the trail, having to forge our way through tiny man-made paths. If the sled in front of you is not as fast, you have to stand on the brake…a lot. This was my experience and I found it really tiring…so did the dogs, they kept looking around to see why we were slowing down. When we were going at a good clip (usually downhill) I had to be careful, I was standing on the two runners that stick out the back of the sled. These are about five inches wide and sometimes I couldn’t see them because of the snow. If I missed and fell off the sled…buh bye. I didn’t fall…had a couple of scares but I stayed on. It was so tiring (and I didn’t know it at the time but I was coming down with the horrendous cold) so I asked if I could sit in the sled on the way back…it was a much more relaxing and enjoyable experience. I also didn’t realize that we would have to share the trail with snowmobilers…not my favorite group activity.
The Drivers: They are both women and men, enthusiastic young adults who obviously care deeply for there charges. They are given 20 dogs to care for, which includes naming, feeding, grooming, taking care of their “kennels” and knowing all the personalities of the canines in their care. This last is especially beneficial when putting together a team. They are also responsible for “training” us newbies in how to start and stop a sled.
The Dogs: They are not large snarling dogs, but a group of intentionally-bred beautiful Alaskan Huskies that are incredibly eager to run with a sled. Each one has a name, given by its driver. (My favorite was Cabernet of course) They are all loving to humans, in fact they will lean on you and get pet all day long if that is your wish. They all have personalities, some are scrappy, happy and focused, others are a little unfriendly with other dogs. Each driver is responsible for knowing who likes whom and who works well together. Each sled has up to eight dogs, but they can be switched out depending on the abilities and the focus of the day. It is not unusual to see blood on the snow, between nipping at each other and sometimes getting caught up in the excitement of the run, there are minor wounds on just about every dog.
The Kennels: Each dog has a “kennel” made from an industrial cable spool. In the winter they are on end so that they can be rolled to the top of the latest snowfall. In the summer, they are put on their sides so that they provide the maximum amount of shade.
The Sleds: Almost like a papoose on runners, if you are sitting (lying) in it, you are literally inches away from the snow covered trail. If you don’t lean the right way, you can fall over if the dogs drift towards the side of the trail…this is especially true of our run because of the new snowfall. The ride is not exactly smooth or incredibly comfortable, but I loved it.
The Sounds: Dogs barking and whining (especially the ones who didn’t get to go), runners of the sled on the snow, the brake digging into the snow, groups of snowmobiles passing on the trail. (Yuck)
The Smells: Snow, dog poop (yes, what you don’t see on TV is that dogs poop while they are running…we were the last sled…nuff said), snowmobiles. (Yuck)
The Sights: Snow. the backs of the dogs running, sometimes a little crookedly, snow, the top of Anne’s head, the back of the sled in front of us, snow and a gorgeous view of the terrain of Wyoming.
Enjoy this movie that I made of our experience!