My family spent Christmas in Deer Valley. When we arrived late December 19th, there wasn’t much snow. Most of the ski runs were closed and some other activities like the tubing parks and dog sleds were suffering from the unseasonably warm temperatures.
But as luck would have it, the sky opened up the morning after we arrived, and it snowed until the day we left. We skied in champagne powder and were able to go on the dog-sledding trip we had been looking forward to for months.
Here’s what I thought dog sledding would be like when I scheduled it (based on no facts, only the picture in my head that I think was based on a preview for Fargo, the movie).
I pictured my entire family standing in a large sleigh, behind a pack of huskies tearing through the wild flats of Alaska. And this picture makes a lot of sense since we were headed for the mountains of Utah. But anyway, I’m not always a details girl.
Luckily our ski instructors told us to wear as many layers as we would if we were skiing. I had been planning on wearing a fashionable set of leggings and cute parka, and am so glad I heeded their warning. They also told us to wear our ski goggles…more good advice. The Ray-Bans that went with my imaginary fashion outfit wouldn’t have helped much as we tore through the mountains in the snow either.
As for standing behind the pack of dogs, no. Totally wrong. When you go dog sledding you sit in a dogsled, a basket looking sled that fits two to three people depending on their weight; ideally the sled holds three hundred pounds if it’s drawn by eight dogs. So my sled held my two boys, both of whom weigh in at about ninety pounds and me. We weren’t under three hundred pounds but I wasn’t about to tell them about the mounds of fondue I had eaten, thus throwing our sled over its ideal weight limit.
The sled is a bit tight as well. The largest person gets in the back and opens his or her legs to fit the next person. I sat in back and my oldest son sat in the middle. That was okay. It wasn’t until my youngest son got in front of his big brother and his brother started howling in pain that I screamed, “where is his penis?” This set Miriam, our musher, off into fits of laughter, as apparently it was the first time anyone in her sleigh had screamed loudly about penises. My sons wanted to die. I thought it was hilarious.
Another huge misconception I had about dogsledding was that the dogs just ran, someone standing idly behind them with the reigns. I couldn’t have been more mistaken.
Dog sledding is a storied sport and the discipline, energy and talent of the dog trainer runs deeper than I could have imagined. Our two dog runners, Greg Sellentin and Miriam Osredkar, have over thirty years of experience between them. My husband rode behind eight Alaskan Huskies, dogs bred for endurance and speed. These are the dogs that run the Iditarod. My two sons and I rode in a sled behind eight Polar Huskies. These dogs are also bred for endurance but also for strength and carriage more than speed.
When I asked Miriam, our “musher,” how the two lead dogs are chosen, thinking perhaps they were the Alphas, she explained that the Alphas are rarely the leaders of the dog team because the dogs at the front of the pack need to listen to the person leading the sled, who is in effect, the Alpha dog. My dog, Stella, could never land a job leading the sled. Mainly because she is a Giant Schnauzer so not at all suited by breed for the job, but also because she is the most Alpha, stubborn, obstinate dog to ever walk the planet. She would however benefit from the dog’s mainly paleo diet as she is gluten free.
If you have the opportunity to go dog-sledding, take it! I expected to enjoy myself, but I never expected to feel so connected to nature, both through these amazing dogs and by being out in the wilderness being pulled through trails and woods. And I realized that the dog trainer, or musher’s, job goes well beyond hanging out on a sled as we veered along the steeps of the mountains and she shouted things like “oy,” and “whoo-whoa,” keeping our dogs from darting off the track and down the mountain side.
Another suggestion I might make is that you wear a neck gator that you can use when the dogs get gassy. It can get a little smelly back there. The kids had an amazing time, even if my younger son spent most of the ride asleep because it was Christmas Day and he had been up since four AM waiting to open the gifts Santa had brought.
Rocky Mountain Recreation, Utah 435-645-7256
Miriam and Greg: firstname.lastname@example.org
A special Thanks to the amazing Marina at Montage Deer Valley for making all of our Christmas dreams come true!