- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2003

ASHLAND, N.H. — Like many identical twins, Kim and Kelly Berg of Ashland do almost everything together, even mushing.

Three to five afternoons a week after work, they hook up their 12 Siberian huskies to a sled and join an increasing number of people enjoying recreational or competitive dog-sledding.

“It’s exciting. It’s an adrenaline rush, for sure,” says Kim Berg, 23, who has been dog-sledding with her sister since they were 14. “A lot of young people are getting into it; there are a ton of us out there.”

You don’t have to have your own team of dogs to enjoy dog-sledding. Sled-dog kennels can be found in at least 21 states, offering everything from races, training and three-week adventures for dedicated mushers to pleasant half-hour rides for families or beginners looking for something to do on a wintry weekend besides skiing or snowmobiling.

Dog-sledding always has been popular in Alaska, home of the world-famous Iditarod sled-dog race, but more and more people are trying it in places such as Colorado, the upper Midwest and New England.

“The whole sport, for some reason, seems to be catching on,” says Brian Kolowich of Ouray, Colo., who organizes races.

He says there is renewed interest in the Iditarod because of animal rights activists, and two sled-dog movies, “Snow Dogs” and “Iron Will,” have come out in the past few years.

“People realized you don’t have to be in Alaska to do sled-dog racing,” he says.

As recreation, “it’s an alternative to motorized sports” and a way to enjoy the winter countryside without the noise and fumes of snowmobiles. “And the dogs are your pets, your friends, not a machine you put away for the year,” he adds.

For beginners, many places in the snow belt offer rides, a chance to try it out before making any investment in a sled and dogs. Rides range from one hour to trips of a half day, full day or overnight, and rates vary.

The Earth Song Lodge in Healy, Alaska, offers day trips for $75 to $200 a person and overnight packages for $400 to $500. A three-day sampler is billed as “the perfect introduction to dog-sledding,” with a day spent on orientation and training at the lodge, followed by two days in which participants drive their own dog teams to a backcountry cabin on the Sushana River in Denali National Park. The package costs $1,250 to $1,500.

Gregg and Gretchen Dubit of Durango Dog Ranch in Durango, Colo., took about 20 people sledding 12 years ago, their first year in business. In 2002, they had more than 250 riders in four months of operation. Riders book in advance, and they come from all over the country as part of an adventure vacation.

Arleigh Jorgenson has been operating Sled Dog Adventures in Grand Marais, Minn., since 1988, when he began giving 10-minute rides at the local ski area. Now his shortest ride is an hour. He gives them to 350 to 400 people a year, and his customers get a chance to drive the team.

“The market is huge,” Mr. Jorgenson says. “A lot of people are looking for a significant experience, something that’s real.”

Most of his customers come from the city. Some want to experience the wilderness and the adventure of breaking trail, and some are skiers on multiday vacations who “choose to spend a day with us,” he says.

A two-day, one-night ride for $650 includes a stay in a remote cabin or a spacious and comfortable winter tent, with all meals and lessons on driving the team included.

For serious fans of the sport, about 65 sanctioned races are run in North America and Japan, including the World Championship derby in Laconia, N.H., from Feb. 13 to 15. It’s one of the oldest sled-dog races in the country, according to David Steele, executive director of the International Sled Dog Racing Association in Merrifield, Minn. There also are many more unsanctioned races, Mr. Steele says.

Jan Carlton of the New England Sled Dog Club, whose 13-year-old daughter has been racing since she was 6, says the club has about 100 members and puts on seven races in New York state, Vermont and New Hampshire. Her daughter trains with six or seven other families on a series of trails in Auburn, N.H.

Andy Norkin and his wife, Catherine, of Denmark, Maine, offer full-day training and riding sessions through the Appalachian Mountain Club for people like Linda Mahoney, 57, of Burlington, Mass., and Rebecca Lee, 29, of Wellesley, Mass.

Miss Mahoney says she read about dog-sledding and saw it on television and thought, “I’d like to try that some day.” Last winter, she and Miss Lee did.

“It was fun; it was exciting — a one-day adventure,” Miss Mahoney says.

The Norkins hold class in the morning on equipment, care of the dogs and driving the team and then give everyone a chance to mush in the afternoon.

It’s a lot like cross-country skiing, Mr. Norkin says. It can be physically demanding for long-distance racing, but the recreational sled-dogger should be agile and fit, with some leg strength.

“It’s not just a matter of standing there,” he says.

There is a hand brake, but for novices, instructors usually run a team in front “to make sure the dogs don’t run away with them,” Mr. Steele says.

With six dogs pulling, they can hit 20 mph, and you have to hang on around the curves, Miss Mahoney says.

“I would do it again. I definitely would like to do it again,” she says.

Where to find dog-sledding

Durango Dog Ranch: Located in Durango, Colo.; 970/259-0694 or www.durangodogranch.com.

nnels in 21 states that offer tours to the public, from peaceful half-hour rides to intensive 21-day adventures.

Kennels are located in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming, as well as seven locations in Canada.

For contact information, visit www.dogsledrides.com.

Directory of dogsled adventures: Listings for tours in Alaska, Maine, Minnesota, Wyoming and Canada. Most operators welcome families and beginners as well as experienced mushers; 907/479-0454 or www.mushing.com to download the brochure.

Sled-dog racing organizations: Races, training clinics, workshops. For the New England Sled Dog Club, visit www.nesdc.org.

For the International Sled Dog Racing Association, based in Merrifield, Minn., visit www.isdra.org or call 218/765-4297.

Vermont Outdoor Guide Association: Listings for dog-sled rides, tours and races in Vermont; 800/425-8747 or www.voga.org/home.htm. Click on dog sledding, listed with winter sports.

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