Embarking on an adventure: Local company offers dog sled tours
She made a choice with a lot of bite, a lot of fur and a boisterous bark – dog sledding.
“I’m not the best skier, so I thought dog sledding would be an amazing alternative to skiing because I could still be outside in the snow, and I love dogs,” Safren said.
Through Coldstream Adventures, she embarked on an hour-long adventure with musher Ralph Whitten and his eight-dog team of Alaskan huskies. The crew raced through 7 miles of snowy meadows in Cottonwood Canyon, outside of Truckee.
“I loved watching the dogs do what they innately love to do, with the wind against my face,” Safren said.
Dog sledders are bundled with fleece blankets inside a padded, two-man sled while the musher stands behind, steers and yells commands to the raring canines. As the final touches are completed before the sled shoots off, the air booms with barking and yelps until the dogs are set free to pull the sled.
And then there is silence.
“It’s amazing how excited the dogs are to get going,” Safren said. “And then they are so happy to be doing what they love. The ride is so quiet and peaceful.”
Whitten’s dogs are traditional huskies cross bred with hounds, for a more athletic breed, he said. The 50-pound dogs have shorter coats so they don’t overheat, and they love to run.
“As instinctive it is for a retriever to fetch, huskies love to pull,” Whitten said.
Mushing, the formal name for the sport of dog sledding, is a derivative of the French word “marcher,” to walk. When English-speakers heard the French mushers of northern Canada telling their dogs to march (walk), the Americans heard “mush,” Whitten said, and the sport came to be called mushing.
He said dogs can pull sleds from the time they are a year old until they are about 12, but very few can lead the pack.
“Only about 10 percent of dogs have the confidence to lead a team,” he said. “The others will just sit down and start looking around when I put them in front.”
The two dogs in front lead, while the two in back steer. The dogs in the middle are called pointers and those behind them are the team. Whitten owns 75 dogs that live in his backyard, and he enters in the four California dog sled races each year.
“The best thing about dog sledding is that it’s totally private, no one else is on the trails,” said Joe Freeman, Coldstream Adventures office manager. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, not available in many parts of the world. It’s a way to experience arctic adventure in an uncommon mode of travel.”
Coldstream Adventures offers dog sled tours for hour-long adventures at Coldstream and Cottonwood canyons near Truckee, November through February. Moonlight tours are also offered each month on the brightest nights near the full moon. In addition to mushing, the tours offer a social time with the dogs, a narrative history of the sport, information about the region and lots of opportunities to take pictures.
Call 582-9090 for more information, or visit http://www.coldstreamadventures.com
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