Like many identical twins, Kim and Kelly Berg of Ashland do almost everything together, even mushing.
Three to five afternoons a week, after work, they hook up their 12 Siberian huskies to a sled and join the increasing number of people enjoying recreational or competitive dog sledding.
"It's exciting. It's an adrenaline rush, for sure," said Kim, 23, who's been dog sledding with her sister since they were 14. "A lot of young people are getting into it; there are a ton of us out there."
But you don't have to have your own team of dogs to enjoy dog sledding. There are sled-dog kennels in at least 21 states, offering everything from races, training and three-week adventures for dedicated mushers, to a pleasant half-hour ride for families or beginners looking for something to do on a wintry weekend besides skiing or snowmobiling.
Dog sledding always has been a popular activity in Alaska, home of the world famous Iditarod sled-dog race, but more and more people are trying it in places such as Colorado, the upper Midwest and New England.
"The whole sport, for some reason, seems to be catching on," said Brian Kolowich of Ouray, Colo., who organizes races.
Not Just in Alaska
He said there is renewed interest in the Iditarod because of animal rights activists, and in the last few years there have been two sled-dog movies, Snow Dogs and Iron Will.
"People realized you don't have to be in Alaska to do sled-dog racing," he said.
As recreation, "it's an alternative to motorized sports" and a way to enjoy the winter countryside without the noise and fumes of snowmobiles. "And the dogs are your pets, your friends, not a machine you put away for the year," he added.
For beginners, there are many places in the snowbelt that offer rides, a chance to try it out before making any investment in a sled and dogs. Rides range from one hour to a half-day, full-day to overnight trips, and rates vary.
Part of Adventure Vacation
The Earth Song Lodge in Healy, Alaska, offers day trips for $75 to $200 a person and overnight packages for $400 to $500. A three-day sampler is billed as "the perfect introduction to dog-sledding," with a day spent at the lodge on orientation and training, followed by two days in which participants drive their own dog teams to a backcountry cabin on the Sushana River in Denali National Park. The package costs $1,250 to $1,500.
Gregg and Gretchen Dubit of Durango Dog Ranch in Durango, Colo., took about 20 people sledding 12 years ago, their first year in business. In 2002 they had more than 250 riders in four months of operation. Riders book in advance, and they come from all over the country as part of an adventure vacation.
Arleigh Jorgenson has been operating Sled Dog Adventures in Grand Marais, Minn., since 1988 when he began giving 10-minute rides at the local ski area. Now his shortest ride is an hour. He gives them to 350 to 400 people a year, and they get a chance to drive the team.
"The market is huge," he said. "A lot of people are looking for a significant experience, something that's real."
Most of his customers come from the city, people who want to experience the wilderness and the adventure of breaking trail, or skiers on multiday vacations who "choose to spend a day with us," he said.
A two-day, one-night ride for $650 includes a stay in a remote cabin or a spacious and comfortable winter tent, with all meals and lessons on driving the team. For serious fans of the sport, there about 65 sanctioned races in North America and Japan, including the World Championship derby in Laconia, N.H., from Feb. 13 to 15, one of the oldest sled-dog races in the country, according to David Steele, executive director of the International Sled Dog Racing Association in Merrifield, Minn. And there are many more unsanctioned races, Steele said.
Jan Carlton of the New England Sled Dog Club, whose 13-year-old daughter has been racing since she was 6, says the club has about 100 members and puts on seven races in New York state, Vermont and New Hampshire. Her daughter trains with six or seven other families on a series of trails in Auburn.
Andy Norkin and his wife, Catherine, of Denmark, Maine, offer full-day training and riding sessions through the Appalachian Mountain Club for people like Linda Mahoney, 57, of Burlington, Mass., and Rebecca Lee, 29, of Wellesley, Mass.
A One-Day Adventure
Mahoney had read about dog sledding and had seen it on television, and thought "I'd like to try that some day," she said. Last winter, she and Lee did.
"It was fun; it was exciting — a one-day adventure," Mahoney said.
The Norkins hold class in the morning on equipment, care of the dogs and driving the team, and then give everyone a chance to mush in the afternoon.
It is a lot like cross-country skiing, Norkin said. It can be physically demanding for long-distance racing, but the recreational sled-dogger should be agile and fit with some leg strength.
"It's not just a matter of standing there," he said.
There is a hand brake, but for novices, instructors usually run a team in front "to make sure the dogs don't run away with them," Steele said.
With six dogs pulling, they can hit 20 mph, and you have to hang on around the curves, Mahoney said. "I would do it again. I definitely would like to do it again," she said.
If You Go…
DURANGO DOG RANCH: Located in Durango, Colo. Contact (970) 259-0694 or visit www.durangodogranch.com. EARTH SONG LODGE: Located in Healy, Alaska. Contact (907) 683-2863 or visit www.earthsonglodge.com for details on dog-sled trips. SLED DOG ADVENTURES: Located in Grand Marais, Minn. Contact (218) 387-2498. SLED DOG KENNELS: Listings for sled-dog kennels in 21 states that offer tours to the public, from peaceful half-hour rides to intensive 21-day adventures. Kennels located in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming, as well as seven locations in Canada. For contact information, visit www.dogsledrides.com. DIRECTORY OF DOGSLED ADVENTURE: Listings for tours in Alaska, Maine, Minnesota, Wyoming and around Canada. Most operators welcome families and beginners as well as experienced mushers. Call (907) 479-0454 or by visit www.mushing.com to download the brochure. SLED DOG RACING ORGANIZATIONS: Races, training clinics, workshops. For the New England Sled Dog Club, visit www.nesdc.org. For the International Sled Dog Racing Association based in Merrifield, Minn., visit www.isdra.org or call (218) 765-4297. VERMONT OUTDOOR GUIDE ASSOCIATION: Listings for dog-sled rides, tours and races in Vermont. Call (800) 425-8747 or visit www.voga.org/dog-sledding.html.