By Josh Bishop
The training period lasted less than two minutes, and it went something (though not entirely) like this: “Put your feet here. One foot on the brake to slow down, two feet to stop. And lean with your turn. If you don’t lean, you’re going to get real friendly with a tree. Let’s go.”
Brandon Barnhorst, our guide at Good Times Adventures in Breckenridge, had a dry sense of humor and a ponytail, and prided himself in giving guests a more adventurous tour than the other guides. “I tend to beat up a lot of people,” he said, only half-joking. Perfect.
We were introduced to our dogs (which were smaller than I would have guessed), kneeling to give them affectionate scratches behind the ears. Brandon went through the names as if reciting the opening lines from the inimitable Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: Sputnik and Simba and Echo and Cotton, Red Zephyr and Dusty and Aires and Buster. We listened, knowing we would never remember who was who, and decided which of us would be the first to mush.
We would each get a turn. The six-mile dog sled tour through the Middle Fork of the Swan River lasts just over an hour, and we periodically switched between musher and rider, while the remaining four of our group sat on a sleigh behind Brandon’s snowmobile. From the beginning, the dogs’ excitement was apparent; every time we stopped to switch mushers and riders the dogs pulled at their harnesses, barking and yipping, ready to go as soon as the brake was released.
“They get upset when you don’t take them,” said Brian Holt, owner of Good Times Adventures, Summit County’s only dog sled company. “They love it, they’re bred for it. It’s like a Labrador fetching a stick: These guys run and pull.”
It can be a fairly nerve-racking experience to control a vehicle powered by living creatures instead of an engine and gas pedal, but when I stood on the back of the sled I felt comfortable within a few seconds. And it was the most fun I’ve had in years.
Dog sledding is easier than it looks — that two-minute lesson really is all you need — and, with the exception of several good-sized bumps, it’s an incredibly smooth ride.
Which isn’t to say it’s boring.
I got a healthy face-wash when the sleigh kicked back snow and our sled tipped twice. Also, Brandon had a habit of disappearing on the snowmobile so we didn’t know when to expect the drops and turns. After Brandon left us for one particularly steep hill, two bumps, a jump and a hard-right turn, my friend Tony found himself in the deep snow off the path while I sat unawares in the musher-less sled. Maybe he forgot to lean.
If Brandon hadn’t been able to catch and stop the sled, the dogs would have gone straight home for what Holt called “the Soup.”
“It’s smoked fat from Q4U,” one of Frisco’s barbecue joints, Brandon explained. “It’s all the trimming off their meat just chopped up in little pieces and then cooked up in a pot of water.”
This delicious fat-and-water meal hydrates the dogs after every run. Each dog is guaranteed two runs a day, with some of the younger dogs pulling a sled three times. When Holt bought the company 11 years ago, he had 25 dogs; now his more than 100 dogs run 20 tours each day, pulling as many as 120 people when it’s busy.
With modest pricing, Good Times Adventures offers an incomparable experience.
“This is for the family,” Holt said. “You don’t get the full hour of mushing, but you get enough. This gives you the feel of it, but not the exhaustion of the whole deal.”
© 2007 Josh Bishop