Created in the 1960s by Alaskans who wanted to preserve dog-sledding culture against the rise of machines, but garnering increased notoriety in the 1970s, the annual Iditarod trail dog sled race became a worldwide phenomenon. Run across more than a thousand miles of wilderness trail in often brutal conditions where the windchill can drop far below zero, the race spawned numerous imitations and gave birth to dog sledding as a recreational sport that anyone can enjoy.
A number of outfitters in Alaska, Canada and the Lower 48 states now offer dog sledding as a fun family adventure that allows participants to glide through lovely winter landscapes while nurturing a long-standing North American tradition.
Dog sledding came to northern Utah with the Winter Olympic Games of 2002, when All Seasons Adventures launched its initial mushing trips through the snow-covered meadows of the Wasatch and Uinta mountain ranges near Montage Deer Valley in Park City.
“The trails that we use currently are following the old mining roads of the Mayflower Mine,” says co-owner Justin Brown. “The tour begins by passing the historic mine structures before climbing into the hills lined with aspens and tall pines. Deer and elk live in the area, but they are tougher to spot than the much larger moose. Abundant birds, snowshoe hares and the occasional porcupine may be hanging around as well.”
While the ride is exhilarating, Brown notes that the best part of the experience is observing the dogs’ behavior and interactions. “This truly is what these dogs live for,” he explains.
As the dogs are put into harnesses and hooked to the sled, their excitement visibly increases. They transform from calm and quiet to leaping in the air and howling with anticipation. As soon as the musher pulls the quick-release tethering on the sled and yells “Hike!” the dogs immediately go quiet and take off in a swift, smooth run.
Guests of Montage Deer Valley can easily have an exhilarating dog sledding experience arranged for them with the help of their knowledgeable concierge. While some tours are set up with All Seasons Adventures, others can be arranged through Luna Lobos Dog Sledding, owned by husband-and-wife team, Fernando and Dana Ramirez. “Dog sledding is an amazing sport and it is exciting to see how these dogs love to run,” Dana says, noting that although the dogs are high-energy, the ride is peaceful and thrilling.
The duo’s sled teams are composed mainly of rescue dogs, “We love to show our guests how these dogs find such joy in doing something that they love. They were given a second chance, and they have used it to chase after their dreams,” Dana says.
The tours are designed to be family friendly with children as young as 3 years old allowed onboard. “That being said, it can be an exciting ride,” Brown says. “In the right conditions and with the right guests, the mushers can let the dogs really open up, reaching speeds of 16 to 17 miles per hour.”
Regular rides cover 3 to 5 miles depending on snow conditions and take just over an hour to complete. After the ride, guests get to spend time socializing with the dogs, giving them love, treats and taking photos. “All these dogs are treated as family,” Brown says.
Four hundred miles due north, the gorgeous country of southwestern Montana is another ideal place for dog sledding. Local outfitter Spirit of the North has been mushing the region for almost a quarter century, with trips near Moonlight Basin, a winter resort in Big Sky, and remote Gallatin National Forest on the Montana side of Yellowstone National Park.
“Depending on snow conditions, we usually can start the first week of December,” says Connie Sperry, who originally opened Spirit of the North with her daughter Jessie Royer and now runs the business with her husband. “If we’re lucky, depending on snow conditions … we can keep going until maybe the first week of April.” Rides take around two hours and cover about 7.5 miles of trail. Everyone learns how to drive a sled and command the dogs. The lead sled is always piloted by an experienced musher/guide. But anyone can drive the sled behind and participants are encouraged to take a turn at the wheel, so to speak.
For those visiting Moonlight Basin, Spirit of the North is the onsite dog sled outfitter and trips can be set up with the help of a friendly concierge. “It’s a fun trail—curved, slopes, the whole bit—so it’s not some flat pony ride around a few circles. You’ve got the mountains all around you. It’s gorgeous. You couldn’t ask for prettier country,” Sperry says.
Scattered across the colder climes of North America, dozens of sled dog outfits offer rides through winter wonderlands like the wilderness of Alaska—a state that calls dog mushing its official sport.
Teaming up with four-time defending Iditarod champion and all-time fastest finisher Dallas Seavey, Anchorage-based Salmon Berry Tours offers a full-day adventure in the Alaskan wilderness that revolves around Seavey’s race base. In addition to a chance to mush and ride, the experience includes a guided tour of the kennel and training camp.
“The tour includes background on Dallas, his participation and wins in the Iditarod race and a short lecture about the race,” says Candice McDonald, co-owner of Salmon Berry Tours. “You learn about the required gear and race rules, details about his dog training regime, visit his temperature-controlled dog treadmill used for training, and have an opportunity to hold puppies (if there are some) and pet the dogs. At this stage in his career, Dallas breeds his own dogs. He owns canines with championship lineage to produce future litters.”
The actual dog sledding takes place well off the main road in an area surrounded by typical Alaskan mountains and forest. “Dallas trains in this area, so distractions must be minimal,” McDonald says. She also emphasizes that it’s a family-friendly adventure, with plenty of scope for children to interact with the dogs and participate in the sledding.
By Joe Yogerst