- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

DEER PARK, Md. - Dog sledding has moved south.In Garrett County, Md., you can a ride behind a team of huskies and even learn to mush this winter from two companies offering tours for the first time.

The state’s western mountains, with an average annual snowfall of nearly 100 inches, “are ideal for dog sledding,” said Linda Herdering, who operates Husky Power Dog Sledding with her husband, Mike.

Their company and competitor Yellow Snow Dog Sled Adventures reflect the expansion of a sport rooted in the far north. Although commonly associated with Alaska and Canada, there are mushers in virtually every region of the United States, including Florida, where Siberian huskies pull carts across beach sand, according to the International Sled Dog Racing Association.

Dave Steele, the group’s executive director, in Merrifield, Minn., said press coverage of the Iditarod, a 1,150-mile race across Alaska, has boosted the sport’s popularity. The number of races worldwide has more than tripled since 1995, and commercial tours and outfitters are among the fastest-growing segments of the sport, he said.

“It’s a good thing for us and for the racing community,” Mr. Steele said. For many first-timers, “it lays to rest the absurd notion that the dogs have to be forced to do this. You only have to take one ride to know they love to run.”

And run and run and run.

Yellow Snow owner Kim Trickett kept the sled anchored to a parked all-terrain vehicle while she and business partner Patti Glotfelty attached five squirming dogs, one by one, to bright red gang lines. They whined, barked and strained against their harnesses while a 170-pound passenger climbed aboard, seated himself on a comfortable miniature hay bale and stretched his legs beneath a cozy, zippered sheath of windproof fabric.

Miss Trickett took her position at the rear, unhooked the anchor and cried, “Hike.” But the dogs hardly needed encouragement.

Suddenly silent, they hit the trail with gusto, led by a 5-year-old Siberian named Acadia who, it turned out, wanted more exercise than the 10-minute sprint that Miss Trickett had in mind.

Acadia was mostly obedient, smoothly leading the team right (“Gee”) or left (“Haw”) at forks in the trail — unless the trail led home. On those occasions, Miss Trickett braked the sled and then shouted, coaxed and pleaded until the balky canine reluctantly made the proper turn. Although sled dogs are sometimes measured in miles — “Chester’s got 1,500 miles on him,” Miss Trickett said — they aren’t machines.

“Cherokee — one of my lead dogs — I’ve stood in a place for a half-hour to make him go,” she said.

When the team is running, the musher either rides on the rails, runs or pushes the sled uphill. But drivers have few options in a showdown with a headstrong lead dog. Step off the brake, and the dogs start running. Let go of the sled, and leave your passenger with a runaway team.

“They don’t stop,” Mrs. Herdering said. “The number-one law of mushing is to hold on to the sled at all times, even if you’re on your face being dragged through the snow and gravel.”

Even experienced mushers like Miss Trickett and the Herderings, who learned the sport in northern and western climates, find it useful to have a helper nearby who can grab the lead dog by the collar and point the animal in the right direction. They minimize those occasions on tours by using dogs familiar with the route.

Miss Trickett’s dogs are trained on state forest trails and the Herderings mainly use private property, although both companies are licensed to run on state lands.

The tours include $10 introductory rides, longer runs at $40 to $75 a person and — for the adventurous — half-day tours with the chance to harness and drive your own team. Those runs include a stop in the woods to sip hot chocolate and give the dogs a rest.

“It’s more terrain, more scenery, more experience with the dogs — more of everything good,” Mrs. Herdering said.

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