BRECKENRIDGE, Colo., Jan. 18, 2010 -- When I signed up to go dog sledding on a recent trip to Colorado, I expected a leisurely ride through the woods as my guide steered the sled through the White River National Forest.
That picturesque, relaxing image was shattered the moment I met my guide, Blake Hand, and he suggested that I drive the sled. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous.
Here were eight Siberian and Alaskan huskies jumping, barking and even running in place. I knew that once the tether was released they would be off and they surely didn't look like they wanted a leisurely ride through the woods. These dogs were ready to explode like eight little sticks of dynamite.
"These guys love to run," Hand assured one of my friends who was asking about the ethics of being pulled around by dog.
Great, I thought, tell my family I love them.
But my fears were soon put to rest. Hand explained how the brake works -- never, never take your foot off it while parked because the dogs will run with or without you -- and told me to lean into my turns to navigate the sled around the trees.
I was introduced to the dogs, including Nickel, a Siberian husky with one blue eye and one brown eye.
"He's one of these kind of goofy dogs," Hand explained. "Sometimes he feels like pulling real hard; other times he just feels like going along for the ride. We'll see what he feels like doing out there."
There was a quick lesson in hand signals so I could communicate with Hand, who would be leading the dogs in a snowmobile a few yards in front of me. And then next thing I know, we were off.
Dogsled Speeds Through Forest
Before I knew it, Magnus, Caspar, Red, Chinook, JetStream and the rest of the dogs were gently pulling me through the woods. We rounded corners (with a slight lean, of course) and climbed up hills. But the real excitement came once we made it to the top of the last hill: We got to race down.
That's when the stroll through woods turned into a fast-paced race through the trees. It was surprisingly easily -- although a bit bumpy -- to navigate the dogs and the sled through the wide trail. Well, the dogs were following that snowmobile up front anyway.
"We like the smart dogs in front leading the team and the muscles in the back to do a lot of that good, hard pulling," Hand explained to me. "You can think about it: smartest to strongest."
(Since I was all the way at the back, I briefly wondered about my intellectual strength.)
Most dogs do two hour-long trips a day with tourists and then spend the rest of their time eating and playing. Some of the dogs, like JetStream, who at nine was oldest dog on my team, only do one run a day.
"Once these sled dogs hit about 9, 10, 11 years old, that is when we usually retire them, and then we put them up for adoption and hopefully find them a good home," Hand said.
Ski Resort Sleigh Rides
For those looking for a more-subdued ride through the woods, consider a nighttime horse-drawn sleigh ride.
At night, once the skiers have left the slopes, the horses take over. Tourists pile into massive sleighs, throw on layers of blankets and head up the ski slopes.
Halfway up the hill, the sleighs turn a corner, offering a magnificent view back down at the lights of town at night and the surrounding mountains. On a clear night, the glow from nearby Keystone Ski Resort's lights can be seen rising from the peak.
Some tours stop for buffet dinner at a heated yurt on the mountain as a guitarist strums away.
Hey, it's not quite like being pulled through the woods by a pack of dogs, but it's a great, tamer way to enjoy winter in the mountains.
Good Times Adventures offers dog sledding rides about 30 minutes outside downtown Breckenridge. The cost is $70 for each adult, and reservations are required. Dress warmly. The company also offers guided snowmobile tours.
Breckenridge Stables offers sleigh rides with hot chocolate ($55 for adults, $45 for kids) and dinner sleigh rides with a guitarist at the meal ($85 for adults and $60 for kids).