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Dog Sledding Is Mush Fun!

“Cats are smarter than dogs. You can’t get eight cats to pull a sled through snow.” Jeff Valdez

Last winter just outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, my family and I went dog sledding. It was an amazing bucket list experience that I would recommend to anyone.

We took the full-day dog sledding tour offered by Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours, and it included a hot lunch and a dip in Granite Hot Springs.

We were shuttled, with other adventurers from our hotel, on a thirty minute drive into a canyon smack-dab in the middle of nowhere. We lucked out with a beautifully sunny day, after a light dusting of snow the night before. Conditions were ideal for our first mushing.

The dogs’ owner and trainer met us and explained the basics of dog sledding.
“Hollywood lies,” the trainer said. “They always show Siberian Huskies, not Alaskan Huskies, but these are the real dogs that run in the Iditarod.”

There were 190 dogs on the property, all yelping their “Pick me! Pick me!” bark trying to get noticed for their chance to run. They were chained to make-shift dog houses created from large wooden utility wire spools that the dogs could climb inside of to sleep. Other than that small shelter, the dogs were fully exposed to the Wyoming winter.

Our guide was from Oregon, but he spent winters in Wyoming as a dog sledder. He introduced us to our team: Demond, Whitey, Nanook, Grinder, Yeti, and Flapjack. He is responsible for feeding and caring for the dogs and knew each one very well. He described each dog’s personality to us before we set out on our run.

These were world-class dog athletes. They are the Kenyan marathoners of the dog sled world; lean and muscular with a desire to run all day. Some of these dogs had traveled internationally to such places as Sweden to compete in races, and a few had even run the iconic Iditarod in Alaska.

I thought we’d have a prodding whip or at least have to occasionally yell “Mush!”, but these dogs needed no encouragement to run. Many times I would apply the brake to slow them down or stop them and the dog team would all turn their heads and look back at me as if to say, “Come on man, let us run!”

It was a ten mile trip to the hot springs where we would take a dip and enjoy our hot lunch. It was kind of surprising to me how quickly they let us be the musher to our own dog team. Our instructor basically said, “Here’s where the brake is, the dogs know the way, let’s go!”

The dog team can run about seven miles per hour on average, and were kicking up ice and snow as they ran. Occasionally the dogs would bite at the snow banks as they ran, their version of dropping into 7-11 for a quick, refreshing plain Slurpee.

On the uphill slopes, the musher would usually step off and run alongside the sled to ease the dogs burden. Once, the dogs took a turn a little too sharply and tipped the sled over, no one was hurt. We quickly righted the sled and continued on towards the hot springs.

The 100+ degree water just seemed to feel even better when we looked around the edges of the pool and saw nothing but snow banks. While we swam and got all warm and toasty, our guides made us a hot stew served in a bread bowl. We had hot cider, baked brie cheese, green apple wedges, and shared dog sledding stories with our fellow mushers.

After a hot swim, and a hot lunch, I let my eight and eleven-year-old boys take their turns as mushers. I laid down in the sled with a pillow and sleeping bag and took in the amazingly beautiful view of the snow white Grand Tetons against a pale blue sunny sky.

The return trip to camp was so relaxing and comfortable, that I just about fell asleep. The only thing keeping me awake was the periodic foul smells. My face was right about at the same level as the dogs’ backsides, and being down wind of the dogs after they too had eaten their lunch was no special memory.

The experience of sitting in the sled at dog-level behind the team was a great reminder about the old saying and life lesson that goes, “If you’re not the lead dog, the scenery never changes.”

For a doggone good time, and a unique bucket list check-off, search www.jhsleddog.com