Throughout childhood I watched the Iditarod with pure excitement. I remember watching the late Susan Butcher dominate the race during the late 80s and early 90s. It was a sport that crossed gender lines and pitted human nature against Mother Nature, and Mother Nature sometimes won.
I was also a fan of the Iditarod because growing up in the Pacific Northwest I had several connections to people who ran the race; not close associations, but close enough to make me feel connected in a small way.
After reading the book “The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs & Men in a Race Against an Epidemic” by Gay Salisbury, I developed a renewed interest in this race that had mesmerized me as a child. The book, published in 2005, is a nonfiction account of the 1925 diphtheria epidemic in Nome, Alaska. Unable to reach the town by plane, sled dogs were used to race lifesaving serum to the people of Nome. At the time, this event captivated the nation and inspired the annual Iditarod Dog Sled Race.
This long intro illustrates just how much I’ve always wanted to try dog sledding, so when I got the opportunity at Sled Dog Rides of Winter Park this past weekend, I jumped at it. I was in town covering the Grand Park Dog Days of Winter, a sanction sled dog race, so it was the perfect fit.
Dog Sled Rides of Winter Park is located just three minutes outside of Fraser, or 12 minutes from Winter Park Resort. My husband, Ryan, and I arrived on a snowy and blustery Friday afternoon. Ryan’s uncle, Dean, joined us as well.
As we were guided to the area where the dogs are tied, all was quiet, but not for long. When the dogs realized that sleds were being set up the howls began. It was as if they were all saying, “Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!”
Ryan and I were bundled onto one sled, while Dean rode alone. Because our combined weight was significant, our team consisted of 12 excited dogs.
Dog Sled Rides of Winter Park has around 80 dogs, mostly Alaskan huskies. An Alaskan husky is a husky that has been bred with a variety of other breeds, so they all look a little different. Our team had one crazy Siberian husky named Yukon, while the rest were Alaskan huskies. Yukon is the dog in the video below that seems to be bouncing around and looking everywhere except forward.
Snuggled into a large blanket aboard our sled, we watched as our team was hooked up. This is quite a process and I kept thinking of the phrase, “herding snakes.” When the team was ready our musher, Laura, hopped on the back of the sled and we were off. The fast start was somewhat unexpected, and I was startled and tingly with delight all at the same time.
Laura informed us that we were sledding in less than ideal conditions. With fresh snow and wind, the groomed trail was constantly being covered with snow, making the dogs’ job more difficult.
Even with a heavy sled and deep snow in places, our team ran their hearts out. As we flew through Grand County’s beautiful countryside Laura kept us entertained with stories and answered our many questions; her knowledge made this ride not only fun, but educational.
While going through a deep drift our sled slowly turned over and we had to bail. Ryan was especially excited about this little incident because he felt it made a better “dog sled ride story.” However, it’s not nearly as dramatic as it sounds. Once the sled was good and stuck, Laura had us roll off the side so the dogs would be able to pull the sled out of the drift. After that we got back on and were off again.
The ride took about 45 minutes and we covered around 3 miles. Dog sledding is exhilarating, and for dog lovers like me, there’s the added bonus of getting to meet the dogs after the outing.
Dog Sled Rides of Winter Park operates winter and summer. During the summer the dogs pull visitors in modified golf carts or on specialized scooters. You can visit Dog Sled Rides of Winter Park at DogSledRidesofWinterPark.com or check them out on Facebook here.
See more photos of this dog sledding trip here. My husband took the following video or our dog sled adventure at Dog Sled Rides of Winter Park.
(NOTE TO SUBSCRIBERS: You’ll need to go to HeidiTown.com to see video)
Below is one of my favorite Instagram from this dog sledding experience. This was one of our “wheel dogs” (meaning he was directly in front of our sled). I love that face! Follow me on Instagram @TheMayorofHeidiTown.
This trip sponsored in part by the Winter Park & Fraser Chamber.