BRECKENRIDGE - If you want to get a local's look at Summit County, you might skip the lift lines this afternoon and let Yeti show you around. The 3-year-old Alaskan Huskie makes an excellent tour guide and his dog sled tour is definitely one of the more unique and amazing experiences Summit County has to offer.
Yeti works for Good Times Adventures, a local company that runs the only dog sled tour inside the county limits.
The one-hour tour runs through the Swan River Valley on trails a few miles back from the Gold Run Nordic Center. Guides don't stick to any specific trail or route, but adapt the trip for the needs of each group. Family dog-sled trips tend to be a bit slower and less challenging for the younger drivers, while others can be fast paced, with a few hairpin turns and downhill runs.
The Good Times dog-sled tour is beautiful, winding from wide hard-packed trails into backcountry runs through the trees, though it lacks the incredible mountain views of high-alpine ski terrain and the high-speed thrills of a snowmobiling tour. Ultimately, the dogs are the highlight of the experience. Sweet-tempered and beautiful, they are amazing to watch. They're also funny, using breaks to cool down by rolling around in the snow or play with one another.
A dog sledding tour begins with introductions. The guide moves down the line of dogs, a set of eight Siberian or Alaskan Huskies, introducing each one by name and explaining his or her job on the team. The dogs, though definitely eager to be done with the formalities and out on the trail, are affectionate and soak up the attention as they greet their new mushers.
No one knows the team better than the guide, who works with a small group of sled dogs from a young age, socializing and training them. The dogs work on the sled teams from the time they are a year old until age 7 or so. Once they reach retirement age, Good Times finds the dogs new families, who will give them a home where they can live out their days at a slower pace.
But during their younger years on the job, the Huskies clearly love nothing more than to run with their team. Except maybe the big bowl of hot, meat-flavored soup they are rewarded with at the end of each tour, a treat that ensures they stay hydrated. Alaskan Huskies can run up to 120 miles in a single day in extremely cold conditions. Siberian Huskies can handle about 80 miles a day.
Once you've met the team, the guide will walk you through the basics of mushing. The sled can carry two people at a time, a seated passenger and a driver who stands behind the passenger and is responsible for steering and breaking. Handling the sled is fairly simple, though it requires a bit more physical participation than a snowmobile and the speed can be surprising at first. The driver is responsible for breaking, controlling the sled's speed and, to some degree, steering.
In a dog sled race, like Alaska's famous Iditarod, the musher directs the team with verbal commands. On a tour, the dogs know to follow the guide, who leads the way on a snowmobile trailing a sleigh for the members of the tour who are not on the sled. At Good Times, tours can include up to six people, who each take turns driving the dog sled and riding as a passenger.
Whipping through the trees behind the dogs can get cold, so wearing ski gear, including warm hats and after-ski boots, is definitely a good idea. Good Times provides helmets and ski-suits for free, but gloves, hats and other apparel has to be brought from home or purchased.
Children ages 3 and up are allowed on the dog sledding tour, which is an interesting and unique activity for young families. Kids will love meeting the dogs and learning to handle the sled and parents get plenty of opportunities to take pictures on the tour.
Dog sled tours run $70 for adults and $35 for kids ages 8 and younger. Reservations are required.
More information on Good Times Adventures' dog sled tours is available online at www.snowmobilecolorado.com.