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Run with the big dogs: specialized dogsled tours can turn almost anyone into a musher. (Travel).

There was no need, Nicolle Smith assured me, to command Aries, Gaiter, Loathing, and the rest of my sled dogs to "mush" to get them moving. After I double-checked my viselike grip on the sled and jumped on the runners, a simple "All right!" would shift these six 45- to 50- pound balls of muscle and fur from neutral to high gear in no time.

Before we headed off on a 10-mile trot toward Granite Hot Springs in Wyoming's Bridger-Teton National Forest, the 25-year-old guide gave me some solemn advice. "The most important thing is to hang onto the handlebar. Even if you fall over, hang onto the handlebar. If the sled gets lighter, the dogs want to go faster."

Just 10 minutes earlier, Smith had introduced me and a few other firs-time mushers to dogsledding, and now I found myself listening to the excited baying of my dogs, who obviously were more confident about dashing into the forest than I was.

Throughout the West, more than a dozen outfitters offer would-be mushers not just a ride but the chance to pilot their own sleds. Most of these trips run a half-day or full-day, some even longer. My choice was the day-long trip with Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours, a 22-year-old operation run by Frank Teasley, a veteran of eight Iditarod races in Alaska's rugged outback.

Teasley has nearly 200 dogs in his kennel and runs trips into mid-April. Despite the high-strung nature of Alaskan huskies, Teasley's are obedient enough to deliver just about any type of experience you want.

"These days, when people are going on adventures, they really want to participate," Teasley told me. "If you want a mellow experience, we can do that. If you want to rock and roll, we can do that too."

Rolling was far from Smith's mind as she drove out ahead of me with two other dogsledding newbies aboard, Jan and Jack Larimer. But even guides have bad days: while Smith's dogs easily negotiated a nicely sloping hill, moments later her sled rode up onto a snowbank and tipped over unceremoniously. Unfazed by the mishap, the Larimers hopped back onto the righted sled, but the incident made me more nervous.

Standing on the runners is tricky As we zipped off through the forest, it took me a while to find my balance--just a slight lean to the left or right would easily change the direction of the sled. Uphills required me to jog between the runners, helping to lighten the dogs' load; downhills let me hop back aboard and catch my breath, nervously keeping my foot poised just above the brake bar.

Unlike the noisy snowmobiles that occasionally passed us on the trail, our four-pawed engines were wonderfully quiet (the dogs only resort to yelping when it's time to get going after a break), minimally polluting, and suffered no mechanical breakdowns. We didn't cruise faster than 6 to 8 miles per hour, the mellow pace allowing plenty of time to savor the scenery. With the runners hissing gently as they skimmed across the snow, I kept a lookout for wildlife while feasting my eyes on the soaring, snowy cliffs of the Gros Ventre Range.

We enjoyed a soak at Granite Hot Springs, followed by a leisurely lunch. On our return trip we finally spotted a wild animal: a gangly young moose that was crossing the trail several hundred yards ahead. Seeing us, the moose stopped in the middle of the trail, forcing me to jump heavily onto the brake to prevent chaos. By now I felt like a musher with 150 miles under his belt, even though we'd only traveled a little more than 10.

Am I ready for the Iditarod? Not yet. But another day dogsledding in the woods? Definitely.

Mushing the West

Outfitters listed below teach people of all ages and abilities to mush a sled on trips that range from a half-day up to a week; shorter trips may be available. See www.dogsledrides.com for more outfitters and information.
Outfitter Options

ALASKA
EarthSong Lodge and Denali Dog Sled Full-day: $200 per person, includes
Expeditions, Healy; (907) 683-2863 lunch; week-long tour: $3,500 per
 person, includes lodging, meals,
 use of outerwear, and
 transportation to and from
 Fairbanks.

CALIF.
Mammoth Dog Teams, Mammoth Lakes; Half-day: $250 per person, includes
(760) 934-6270 snacks and hot drinks; overnight
 treks: $550 per person, includes
 meals and lodging.


COLORADO
Durango Dog Ranch, Hesperus; Half-day: $150 per person, $110
www.durangodogranch.com or each for two or more, includes
(970) 259-0694 snacks and hot drinks; full day:
 $200 per person, $175 each for two
 or more, includes snacks, lunch,
 and hot drinks; multiday trips
 also available.

Storm King Sled Dog Adventures, Half-day: $225 per individual,
Montrose; www.stormkingsleddogs.com $275 per couple, includes lunch;
(800) 905-5278 full-day: $350 per individual,
 $500 per couple, includes barbecue
 cookout on the trail; multiday
 trips also available.

IDAHO
Sun Valley Sled Dog Adventures, Half-day: $200 per person, includes
Sun Valley; (208) 823-4600 hot drinks; full-day: $300 per
 person, includes bag lunch and hot
 drinks.

MONTANA
Absaroka Dogsled Treks, Pray; Half-day: $150 per person, includes
www.extrememontana.com or lunch; full-day: $195 per person,
(406) 222-4645 includes steak and trout lunch;
 three-day mushing school: $600
 per person.


Nite Flite Siberians, Whitefish; Half-day: $200 for one person,
(406) 862-1832 $150 each additional includes
 drinks and homemade soups;
 full-day: $280 for one person,
 $230 each additional, includes
 dinner; special night trips: $200
 for one person, $150 each
 additional.

OREGON
Oregon Trail of Dreams, Bend; Full-day: Mon-Fri only, $375 per
www.sleddogrides.com or couple, includes lunch at Elk Lake
(800) 829-2442 Resort; overnight trips: $675 per
 couple, each additional night $75,
 includes lodging and meals.


WYOMING
Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Half-day: $135 per person, includes
Tours, Jackson; www.jhsleddog.com light lunch with hot beverages and
or (800) 554-7388 soup; full-day: $225 per person,
 includes steak or trout dinner.



Sno-Coulee Kennels, Big Horn; Full-day: $200-$400 per person,
www.imt.net/~sleddogadventure or includes hot lunch; multiday:
(406) 245-6967 $1,000-$2,000 per person, includes
 lodging and meals.


Outfitter On the trail

ALASKA
EarthSong Lodge and Denali Dog Sled Take in the Toklat River deep in
Expeditions, Healy; (907) 683-2863 Denali Naitonal Park. Riding
 through the Alaskan bush offers
 sightings of caribou, Dall sheep,
 lynx, moose, and wolves, as well
 as Mt. McKinley.

CALIF.
Mammoth Dog Teams, Mammoth Lakes; From Smokey Bear Flats, the trails
(760) 934-6270 run uphill and downhill thorugh
 the Inyo National Forest, offering
 occasional glimpses of bobcats and
 eagles.

COLORADO
Durango Dog Ranch, Hesperus; Take a daytime trip above 10,000
www.durangodogranch.com or feet in the San Juan National
(970) 259-0694 Forest. Or ask about evening trips
 that include a gourmet meal in a
 backcountry cabin and overnight
 treks with a stay in a snow cave.


Storm King Sled Dog Adventures, In the Uncompahgre National Forest
Montrose; www.stormkingsleddogs.com of southwestern Colorado, open
(800) 905-5278 meadows, thick forests, and great
 views of the San Juan Mountains
 include sightings of bald eagles,
 elk, and foxes.

IDAHO
Sun Valley Sled Dog Adventures, Trails through sagebrush flats and
Sun Valley; (208) 823-4600 deep forests offer varying vistas
 of the jagged Pioneer Mountains
 east of Sun Valley.

MONTANA
Absaroka Dogsled Treks, Pray; Explore the banks of Mill Creek as
www.extrememontana.com or it winds through the Gallatin
(406) 222-4645 National Forest. After mushing
 through the Absaroka Mountains,
 defrost in the warm waters at Chico
 Hot Springs Resort.

Nite Flite Siberians, Whitefish; Enjoy the heavily forested Flathead
(406) 862-1832 Valley. Mush carefully, as deer,
 elk, and moose occasionally cross
 the trail. Night trips offer the
 chance to stargaze as you speed
 across the snow.



OREGON
Oregon Trail of Dreams, Bend; Coyotes, eagles, pine martens, and
www.sleddogrides.com or on occasion, elk make it tough to
(800) 829-2442 keep your eyes on the trail. Trips
 start at Mt. Bachelor ski resort
 and run through the forest to the
 shores of Elk Lake.

WYOMING
Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Ride into the Bridger-Teton
Tours, Jackson; www.jhsleddog.com National Forest and along Granite
or (800) 554-7388 Creek; look for bighorn sheep on
 the mountainsides. Full-day mushers
 get to enjoy a dip in Granite Hot
 Springs.

Sno-Coulee Kennels, Big Horn; Drink in the sight of the beautiful
www.imt.net/~sleddogadventure or Bighorn Mountains. Multiday trips
(406) 245-6967 offer lodging in cabins or heated
 tents and time for skiing,
 snowboarding, or snowshoeing.
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Author:Repanshek, Kurt
Publication:Sunset
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2003
Words:1414
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