January 15, 1995

A Day On The Mountain Can Be Doggone Interesting

Larry W. Earl Correspondent
 

Some ski operators and mountain resorts are going to the dogs, adding dog sledding adventures as an increasingly popular addition to - or substitution for - a day on the slopes.

The dog sled tours offer a unique experience for all ages and are often the highlight of a family’s ski vacation.

Montana’s Big Mountain Ski Resort, Idaho’s Lookout Pass and ski resorts in the Banff, Alberta, region are all working with local outfitters to provide sled tours for their skiers.

Big Mountain and Jeff Olsamer’s Dog Sled Adventures have teamed up to offer free, short rides near the base gondola terminal for children at 2 and 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

These family-fun tours are extremely popular. Most of the outfitters reported being booked two weeks in advance, with weekends and holidays for the remainder of the season being nearly full.

Randall Bozelle, owner of Enchanted Mountain Tours, says, “Wilderness touring by dog team is a very personal, unique experience since a maximum of two people ride in the sled during a tour. You can just relax and enjoy the scenery or get more involved by working with the dogs and driving the team.”

Once under way, your team trots along at a brisk pace, pulling your sled over miles of pristine, snowcovered country. Photo opportunities are a BIG plus for sledders in the winter. Be sure to bring your camera or camcorder.

A typical one-hour trip lets you experience the power of a team of huskies. It is an adventure you won’t forget. “First-timers are amazed at how fast a team of dogs can pull the sled,” says Connie Arsenault, co-owner of Alberta’s Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours. She adds that speed is dependent on weather and surface conditions, as well as how well the individual dogs work together.

On half- or full-day tours, most mushers will allow a guest to drive the team, depending on terrain and the team’s temperament.

Bob Davis, a mushing guide and owner of Pintler Sled Adventures in Montana, teaches his guests how to harness the dogs and drive their own team. “By the time you leave here, you’ll be a rookie musher.” Davis says.

Running a team of dogs is serious business and involves lots of knowledge and work in selecting and training the animals. It is not just a matter of hooking up a bunch of dogs to a sled and yelling “mush.” (Actually, most dog sledders don’t say “mush.”) Tour guests have an opportunity to learn appropriate voice commands and how to praise the dogs.

The guides talk about individual dogs and their respective personalities and abilities, which decide their placement within the team. Each outfitter has chosen his dogs according to various characteristics of each breed.

Reservation and cancellation policies vary with each company. Generally, a reservation deposit is refunded only when sufficient notice of cancellation is given. Be sure to ask for clarification to avoid any misunderstanding. Like the ski industry, dog sledding tours are dependent upon the weather and surface conditions. If the company must cancel the tour, a full refund will be made.

The guide can offer suggestions on appropriate clothing at the time of your booking. Basically, the upper body - especially the head and face - will be exposed to freezing wind. Hats should cover the ears. A scarf or balaclava will help protect the face and neck. Ski goggles or sunglasses are recommended for eye protection.

Here is a sampling of outfitters in the Inland Northwest, who offer dog sledding tours to the public. Depending on where the guides run their dogs, tours are generally available through the end of March.

Enchanted Mountain

Enchanted Mountain Tours, based in Leavenworth, offers dog sledding adventures into the Icicle Canyon, Little Wenatchee River Valley and Chiwawa River Valley. The tours are available each day, except Tuesday.

A three-hour, 18-mile tour is $110 for a single rider and $200 for two passengers. The trip includes a snack and hot drinks along the trail. The one-hour tour price is $55 for one person and $100 for a couple. Reduced prices are offered for children ages 11 and under. (509) 763-2975.

Lookout Pass

Lookout Pass Ski Area offers dog sledding tours for $40 a person an hour. A reduced rate is offered for children under age 10. The tours leave the parking lot at the ski area and go into the St. Regis Basin in Montana. At the discretion of the driver, customers can learn to mush the team. Three-hour tours for $90 a person and six-hour tours for $150 a person are available. (208) 556-7211.

Pintler Sled Adventures

Pintler Sled Adventures is located about ten miles west of Anaconda, Mont. Owner Bob Davis offers a variety of sledding adventures into the pristine Pintler Wilderness Area. A two-hour tour is $35 for one person and $60 for two. Prices for children ages 6-12 are $20, and children age 5 and under ride for free. A half-day trip for $50 for one ($80 for two) can include a lunch stop, where riders roast wieners over a campfire. A full-day tour is $80 for single, $120 for double. Two- and three-hour moonlight rides for a couple cost $70 and $90, respectively.

A new tour for this season is an overnighter at a remote, rustic cabin. (“There’s running water in the creek,” Davis jokes.) The overnight package for $220 for two includes all meals, with the menu being planned by the guests. Single person rates and prices for multiple nights are available upon request. (406) 563-2675.

Dog Sled Adventures

Dog Sled Adventures is based out of Olney, Mont., about 18 miles north of Whitefish. Owner and outfitter Jeff Ulsamer runs his tours through the Stillwater State Forest. A two-hour tour costs $100 a couple. A half-day trip costs $200. Single person and group rates are available. Customized trips can be provided. (406) 881-2275.

Absaroka Dog Sled Treks

Absaroka Dog Sled Treks runs out of Chico Hot Springs Resort, near Livingston, Mont. Owners Mark and Sharon Nardin run their teams of Siberian huskies into the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. Two-hour rides are $50 a person, half-days are $100 and full-days are $150. The full-day trip includes a trout and steak lunch. The rider rate for children ages 6-11 is one-half the regular price. (406) 333-4933.

Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours

Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours is based out of Canmore, Alberta. Connie and Charles Arsenault’s kennel promotes four different husky breeds: Alaskan huskies, Alaskan malamutes, Siberian huskies, and the rare Canadian Eskimo dog from Baffin Island in Canada’s Arctic. The company provides service to visitors in the following Alberta locations: Kananaskis Village, Mount Engadine Lodge, Spray Lakes, Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise. Ground transportation can be arranged. Public and corporate sled dog tours are their specialty. Hands-on experience in harnessing the dogs and driving the team is offered. Complimentary snacks are provided. Calculated in approximate U.S. dollar equivalents (including GST), tours range from one hour for $40 a person to a full-day excursion for $153. Romantic moonlight tours for about $97 for a couple are available on evenings of a full moon.

The Sherwood Iditarod Tour for about $69 a person includes dinner at the Sherwood House. Overnight excursion rates are available upon request. (403) 678-4369.

Mountain Mushers Dog Tours

Mountain Mushers Dog Tours is located near Banff, Alberta, and can customize a dog sledding adventure to match their guest’s desires and available time. Calculated in approximate U.S. dollar equivalents (including GST), a typical one-hour tour costs about $144 for two persons on a sled. A three-hour tour for about $185 for two people includes hands-on instruction on driving the team and a hot lunch. The prices includes ground transportation within Banff. Single rider rates are available. (403) 762-9423.

Ka-Na-Ta Wilderness Adventures

Ka-Na-Ta Wilderness Adventures start their trips at the Wells Gray Guest Ranch, located near Clearwater, British Columbia, about about 73 miles north of Kamloops. The tours run into the back country of Wells Gray Provincial Park. The guides provide basic instruction on handling the sleds and commanding the dog team, composed of Canadian Eskimo Dogs and Alaskan malamutes. Charges for the three-day and seven-day musher packages are based on per passenger load per sled, and a minimum of four participants is required.

The approximate U.S. dollar equivalent price (including tax) for the three-day package is about $554 a musher (driver). The cost for each passenger per sled is about $233. The price includes all meals and overnight accommodations at remote log cabins, located on the Grizzly Mountain Plateau. (604) 674-2774.

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