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Two of the best ways to stave off the winter blues, according to a recent article in Everyday Health, are to get outside and try something new. Luckily, we live in Colorado, where there’s no shortage of new adventures to tackle. Before winter melts away to spring, take a spin on a dog sled, a unique activity that’s offered from about mid-November through mid-April by a handful of Colorado businesses stretching from Durango to Steamboat Springs.
One of the options closest to Denver is at the YMCA’s Snow Mountain Ranch, located nine miles north of Winter Park. On Monday and Saturday mornings at 8:30 a.m., their staff offers an educational presentation followed by two-mile rides that loop around a pretty, snow-covered meadow with beautiful views.
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The highlight of the experience is meeting the remarkably strong, yet gentle dogs who pull the sleds. During the informative 45-minute presentation that I attended, Anna, a retired 11-year-old husky, wandered around the room, happily greeting participants. “These dogs are born to run,” says Tim Anderson, the ranch’s outdoor education and adventure coordinator. “When they get to where they can’t run anymore, they often get depressed.” Each dog has his or her own distinct personality, he says, and can become very attached to their handlers. When Anderson temporarily left the program, his dog, Delilah, refused to run until he returned.
Rather than fluffy, black-and-white Siberian huskies, Snow Mountain Ranch’s teams are comprised of lighter-colored Alaskan huskies. These dogs, says Anderson, are more compliant and better suited to long runs or races. Compared to the heavier Siberian huskies, the Alaskans are lean, despite the fact that they consume up to 6,000 calories a day in a special high-fat, high-protein diet that includes lots of frozen beef.
After the introduction, I was the first person to ride the sled. The dogs’ excitement was tangible from the moment I stepped outside into the clear and very cold morning. As the handlers struggled to hook the dancing dogs up to their chest harnesses, Anderson instructed me on where to stand on the padded runners and repeatedly warned me to hold on tight. As takeoff approached, the chorus of yaps grew louder and more persistent. The instant the medieval-looking “snow hook” holding back the team was released, the eight dogs flung themselves forward and launched the sled.
After the initial lurch, the ride was surprisingly smooth, giving me plenty of time to enjoy the serene glades and mountain views. The short ride, which takes about 10 minutes, is a great introduction to the sport, especially for kids, who can sit on the front in the “basket” while a parent rides behind the driver. For those who crave more, the ranch also offers longer rides on Fridays, and some companies, including Good Times Adventures in Breckenridge and Steamboat Dog Sledding near Steamboat Springs, even allow you to mush the team yourself—an experience sure to drive those winter blues away.
If you go: Snow Mountain Ranch is located at 1101 County Road 53 in Granby. Rides cost $30 per person for guests staying at the ranch or $50 for day visitors. Kids five and under must be accompanied by an adult. Reservations are required; call 970-887-2152 x4135.