There’s at least one way to have a blast of snowy fun without even standing up. And that’s tucked into a sled, sitting behind a team of yapping, churning, happy Huskies.
Dog-sledding has become increasingly popular in many Colorado mountain towns and ski areas as a different way to explore the winter wilderness. So whether or not you can ski or snowshoe, you can park your butt in a sled and let someone else do the work while you enjoy the scenery.
One of the oldest dog-sledding operations in the state is Krabloonik Kennels in Snowmass, near Aspen. Since 1971, they’ve been offering sled rides to visitors. With literally hundreds of dogs, they can accommodate a lot of guests on any given day. They mostly offer two-hour to half-day rides and each sled can handle up to two adults and a small child as passengers.
Afterward, you can chow down on some gourmet food, which also is a hallmark of the operation. Be prepared to sample some game dishes – trout, pheasant, wild boar and other treats – accompanied by a fine wine list.
Dog-sledding has grown a lot in recent years, says Krabloonik’s kennel manager.
“There have been a couple of movies (such as “Eight Below”) that have made people curious,” he says.
“And the thing is, it’s a lot of fun. It’s also a great activity for those who don’t ski, or who want a break from skiing.” Because Krabloonik uses freight sleds and because it navigates pretty technical courses (including down and across ski slopes), passengers usually aren’t allowed to drive.
“But if someone really wants to try it, we’ll find a place where they can do it safely,” he says.
Don’t worry that the sport is hard on the dogs, either.
“They love it,” the musher says. “As soon as they realize they’re going out, they get so excited, even if they’ve already been out that day.”
Krabloonik’s far from the only one offering this dog’s eye view of Colorado’s winter wonderlands.
In Vail, Mountain Musher’s friendly dogs will haul you all over 10,000 acres of private land for a unique view of the Rocky Mountains in winter. If the dogs look familiar, maybe it’s because they’ve been featured on “The Today Show” and The Learning Channel.
Check out some of Colorado’s best ghost towns by dog sled if you ride with Good Times Adventures in Breckenridge. You’ll be the musher as you wind your way along the Swan River. The tour, a little more than an hour, can accommodate up to six passengers on the dogsled and in the passenger sleigh.
A true backcountry sledding experience is yours when you hop on Dog Sled Rides of Winter Park. The dog-powered tours, which last from half an hour to nearly 2 hours, include knowledgeable naturalist guides who will tell you about and name the animals, trees and mountains you’ll see.
The prize for the funniest name goes to the Lucky Cat Dog Farm near Gunnison, where rides are tailored to the guest’s wishes. Rides can last up to 3½ hours, so this is an in-depth experience.
Their motto? “Great athletes train year round, perform under pressure, and scratch themselves in public.”
Your exploration of southwestern Colorado can begin at the Durango Dog Ranch in Hesperus. They’ll give you mushing lessons if you want to drive your own team. You can spend anything from a couple of hours to a full day on the trail.
Dog sled rides also have been added to the long list of winter activities available at Snow Mountain Ranch -- a ‘Y’ operation near Winter Park. These shorter, two-mile rides are perfect for beginners, especially kids, who just want to try the experience to see if they like it.
For any ride, dress warmly, in layers, with warm boots, mittens and a hat. Wear sunglasses and sunscreen on any exposed body parts. Contact the operators for reservations (which are a must) and specific instructions or restrictions (such as weight limits).
As a note for pet lovers who have heard about the ongoing controversies surrounding some kennels, some have been closed down and many have made improvements in their operations to give the dogs more freedom when they are not working -- and other practices from the “old days” have been changed. Instead of euthanizing older dogs, for example, they are now offered for adoption and usually find homes.
Before you adopt, however, remember this: They live, and love, to run.
To explore options, hours, programs and fees for the kennels mentioned in this story, contact:
Dog Sled Rides of Winter Park: 970-726-8326, or www.colorado.com/dog-sledding/dog-sled-rides-winter-park
Durango Dog Ranch: 970-259-0694 or www.durangodogranch.com
Good Times Adventures: 970-453-7604 or www.goodtimesadventures.com
Krabloonik Kennels: 970-923-3953 o;r www.krabloonik.com
Lucky Cat Dog Farm: 970- 641-1636 or www.luckycatdogfarm.com
Mountain Mushers: 970-653-7877 or www.mountainmusher.com
Snow Mountain Ranch: 888-613-9622 or
Linda DuVal is the former travel editor for The Gazette, a freelance travel writer and winner of
several Lowell Thomas awards. She is the co-author of Insider’s Guide to Colorado Springs and writes a local Web site, Pikes Peak on the Cheap (www.pikespeakonthecheap.com).
Colorado Traveler airs Sundays before the Splendid Table and Wednesdays at 11:55 am.
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