Many times I've been tempted by dog sledding adventures, but the price has always discouraged me. This time, what with the Iditarod and all, I was determined to sign up for a mushing adventure. Moreover, Mike Strand stepped up to arrange a group session at a reasonable price. Ironically, it looked for a while that there wouldn't be enough snow for the dog sled, but Alyeska had received a respectable dump in the past week and mushing was back on the schedule.
As I update this page in 2019, I am saddened by what I found while trying to reconcile some broken links. The delightful man who introduced us to his dogs and spoke about how he cared for them, committed suicide after police removed neglected and starving dogs from his care in November, 2014, only nine months after our visit. In spite of that shock, I'm leaving the text as it was originally written -- however hollow it may now seem.
"Expedition" is an overstatement because the dog sledding was scheduled for Moose Meadows, a park near the hotel that was easily reached by the shuttle bus route.
A short walk from the parking lot brought us to the sled and dogs.
The tours are offered by Dario Martinez, owner of Chugach Express.
Dario was very informative. Unlike the image presented by Call of the Wild or White Fang, the modern sled dogs are much more easy-going as to their place in the team and are also friendly and cooperative with humans and other dogs.
He speculates that dogs take on the characteristics of their drivers. In the brutal days of Jack London's gold rush people provided a very poor behavioral example for their dogs.
He wants to see wagging tails on his dog team!
After our introduction we were invited to visit with the team. The dogs enjoyed the attention even though we didn't bring them any treats.
Our musher told us that as long as he stayed away from the sled the dogs understood that they weren't going to work, so they could relax and perhaps even lie down.
This wasn't always the case, however. Some hikers passed by with their Labradoodle and that got our sled dogs fired up and ready to go. You can see that these three are raising quite a ruckus to get going.
The modern racing sled dog bears little resemblance to the Siberian Husky or Alaskan Malamute, both of which have turned into show breeds. Those sturdier dogs have their roots in the days when the sled dog was the only way to haul supplies in the winter. Sled dogs nowadays are bred primarily for racing and they are lighter and longer-legged.
Our musher told us that the optimum working temperature for a sled dog was something like -20F. On this day it was around freezing, which was almost tropical for them. They received frequent breaks to cool off!
Our sled was equipped with a snow brake that prevents the team from running with the sled until desired. Even though the spikes were buried deep in the snow, you can see the track where the dogs had dragged it slowly forward.
The dogs have been bred for centuries by the native peoples to pull and that is exactly what they live for. All of the dogs seemed to relish the work. This will become apparent in the Iditarod pictures coming up.
Before we could get going, however, our musher did his pooper-scooper duty. All the deposits that the dogs had made while waiting were thrown into the brush where there was no danger that anyone would inadvertently step onto a pile.
Since Mike had arranged the outing, he and Eloise got the first ride. Unfortunately Mike had fallen on the ice in his driveway at Wintergreen and broken the wrist on his remaining arm. The cast made it impossible for him to do much of anything, but it didn't keep him away from this experience.
The musher has just pulled up the snow brake and the dogs were off with a bound.
Mike and Eloise are returning from their spin around the meadow.
We teased Eloise for keeping a death grip on the sled. She said it was a pretty rough ride, which it was.
Now Jim is all tucked in and ready to go. The two perspectives from the sled are below:
View from the front.
The musher had hitched dogs singly closest to the sled because there were some tight turns and it made it easier for them.
The individual dogs decided which side they would pull from and occasionally a dog would jump over the center line to pull from the opposite side.
Even when the dogs were hitched as pairs, sometimes they would choose to be on the same side of the center line.
Our next expedition was to the Iditarod. Click your back button or follow the link to continue.