My ideas about dog sledding came from Jack London’s famous novels Call of the Wild and White Fang; Disney also threw in a bone with their not-so-famous 2006 movie Eight Below. All in all, it seemed like an amazing experience. So when we had the assignment to do a dog sledding feature, I was all in.
The primary motivation behind this dog sledding feature was pure curiosity. As I sat looking at my two dogs (a pug and wannabe pug that’s a lab), I was interested to see a dog at work. I typically get pulled by my dogs on leashes, but for pulling to be a dog’s actual duty was fascinating.
Alpine Adventures Dog Sledding, known for their unique, hands-on dog sledding tours, caught my attention because of the rave reviews and long reputation, a total of fifteen seasons. I sent an email, owner Loren Priem confirmed, and we were off to the races.
As photographer Michael Rainero and I took off Sunday morning on 1-70 West, dressed in ski clothing and plenty of wool, I envisioned playing with big, fluffy Siberian Huskies. A few hours later (thanks, mountain traffic) we finally made it and were in for a surprise.
After meeting Dana, our guide and the alpha of her 12-dog team, we walked over for the rest of the introductions. What first caught my attention were all the colors, shapes and sizes of the dogs. Although purebred Siberian Huskies can be used in dog sledding, Alaskan Huskies, we learned, dominate in both racing and touring.
“Alaskans are a crossbreed created and bred for long-distance running. Siberians are a pure breed, but could never run the miles that Alaskans do. So you see them bred with running breeds,” says Loren.
And during this peak season, there’s a lot of running.
“Only during the very busiest time of our peak holiday season does a team run four tours a day. In theory, a team could run a total of 22 miles in a full day,” says Loren. “But that is broken up over four tours throughout the entire day. A 5-6 mile run for these athletes is barely stretching their legs.”
Dana’s team would be on their second tour of the day with us in tow. Becca (2) and Scout (4) were the leading ladies and the smallest out of the team.
“We have the muscle in the back, speed and intelligence in front,” explained Dana.
We opted for the one-hour “tagsled” tour in which two dog sleds are attached, and the guide takes the first sled to help guide. Both Michael and I got the opportunity to help drive, ride and control the team. I started out as the driver and let out an enthusiastic “mush,” and the packs pent-up excitement was let out in one cooperative pull.
The ride was serene and the perfect way to spend a Sunday. There was an impending snowstorm set to hit the following day, so the view of typically blue skies and Mt. Elbert (the tallest 14-er in Colorado) was blocked. We didn’t mind since it felt like a true tundra, alpine adventure.
When we got back, we helped bring each dog back to his or her station, and then it was feeding time. As soon as they were done eating, you could see through their soft grunts, barks and occasional howls their excitement to get back to the ride.
We saw families with children of all ages, couples old and young, and groups of friends. Most of Alpine’s business comes from out-of-staters visiting the slopes looking for a unique snow experience outside of skiing.
“Everyone knows about snowmobiling, which I love to do as well, but dog sledding is one of those bucket-list activities for tourists,” says Loren. “We hear it every day, all day long, that we are the highlight of everyone’s winter vacation, and we take pride in that.”
I may not be a tourist, but it was the highlight of my winter and a definite conversation starter. If you’re near Breck, Vail, Copper Mountain or Keystone, visit Alpine to cross ‘dog sledding’ off your bucket list.