Going to the Dogs
A Backroads Adventure
The bone-chilling cold of the Colorado backcountry in the dead of winter may not conjure happy thoughts for most of us.
But when paired with man’s best friend, that might change your opinion.
More than ever, it’s time to channel your inner Jack London and travel back to a time-honored mode of transportation. Or simply imagine yourself traversing Alaska’s frozen frontier in the legendary Iditarod where it’s just you and your trusty pack of huskies.
Over the years, dog sledding has caught traction as a popular Colorado adventure. So if you’ve given skiing, snowboarding or even tubing a try at many of the state’s mountain towns, how about letting a team of excited dogs take you on a ride you and your family won’t soon forget.
“When you have a pack of dogs screaming at the top of their lungs leading the sled you’re standing on, and you can feel the force of the bending handlebar, that’ll capture anyone’s attention,” says Gregg Dubit who, with his wife Gretchen run Durango Dog Ranch, situated at the base of Durango Mountain Resort. “When that line is pulled, they go flying out of there. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been exhilarated by dog sledding.”
Many of Colorado’s skiing and mountain destinations offer opportunities for the scenic sport. In addition to southwestern tours in Durango, adventure seekers also can take in the majestic views of being whisked through snowy trails in such locales as Breckenridge, Winter Park and Steamboat Springs, just to name a few.
Once discovering dog sledding, you might wonder why you hadn’t tried it sooner.
“People don’t realize how exciting it can be,” says Sarah Spalla, the kennel manager for Breckenridge-based Good Times Adventures. “To me, it’s the best sport in the world. It’s very interactive and a unique way to travel the backwoods.”
Dog sledding season starts in earnest around Thanksgiving and runs through late spring, dependent on weather, of course.
With its proximity to ski resorts, dog sledding can become a perfect complement to an already-planned getaway, or so it turns out.
“A lot of people who come to Colorado to ski aren’t used to the elevation, or the size of the mountain,” Dubit says. “Maybe they planned on skiing for four or five days, but after two days, maybe they’re looking for another activity to do. That’s how we get a lot of our business.”
As far as what to wear, it’s Colorado, so remember the basic rules of dressing in layers, along with warm boots, gloves and a warm hat.
In most cases, the wooden sleds can accommodate two people on the back and another inside, with opportunities to stop along the way and change vantage points to give everyone a chance to drive and ride.
However, it’s not just about the ride. Guests are encouraged to get to know their canine companions before and after their journey. And warm beverages will certainly enhance the experience once the heart rate returns to a normal cadence.
“Our trip is 45 minutes, but we invite our guests to arrive early to get acquainted with the dogs and equipment, and to stay after to thank the dogs,” says Tracie Martin, who runs Dog Sled Rides of Winter Park with her husband, Jeff. “There’s definitely interaction. All these dogs are part of our family. They love what they do and love people. We want people to see that.”
Keeping in mind that most places caution against young children or expectant mothers from taking part in certain activities, Martin adds that dog sledding doesn’t exclude anyone.
“Anyone can ride,” Martin says. “I’ve taken out people with high-level neck injuries and cerebral palsy, and as long as they have a person to stabilize them in the sled, they can enjoy it. For a lot of people, this can be a once-in-a-lifetime thing. They may not get this chance again. For people who like dogs and being outdoors, I think this is definitely something they should experience.”