COLORADICAL: THE RUSH OF THE MUSH Dog-drawn sleds are the only way to travel the snow-covered expanse of Colorado’s backcountry

Tours generally last a little more than an hour and trails exist for everyone from beginner-level mushers to more advanced drivers, with opportunities to wind through the narrow pine-tree paths and downhill through the valley

One of the best parts of dog sledding with Good Times Adventures in Breckenridge is wiping out. Seriously.

When your life is in the hands of eight dogs with personalities that are about as different from one another as the cast of “Orange is the New Black,”  you can’t take anything too seriously.

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Photo by Susan Gonzalez/ Aurora Sentinel

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Photo by Susan Gonzalez/ Aurora Sentinel

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Photo by Susan Gonzalez/ Aurora Sentinel

20160121-Dog Sledding-Breckenridge, Colorado

on Thursday Jan. 21, 2016 at Good Times Dog Sledding. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160121-Dog Sledding-Breckenridge, Colorado

on Thursday Jan. 21, 2016 at Good Times Dog Sledding. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

“If the sled happens to tip over, and you’re sitting here, it’s a tuck and roll situation.”

Those were the sage words of wisdom from Courtney Donald, my dog sled guide, before giving me and fellow staff writer Susan Gonzalez the keys to a gangline of  yappy, giddy Siberian Huskies who would be our “wheels” for the next hour. And it was our job to learn in five minutes how to guide them through six miles of glorious, snow-packed trails that wind along the Swan River Valley in the Rocky Mountains.

It was only a matter of time before we proceeded to whiz around a tree-lined curve and tumble face first into a cold pillow of white snow. My senses were exhilarated and everything got a little brighter after that wipeout—for a wonderful moment I felt like I was a child yard-sale-ing off a jump while skiing.

The unique part of Good Times Adventures, my guide explained, is that unlike other dog sledding tour companies, you are in control. The tour is run as a “relay” which means one musher leads the dogs while another sits in the sled below and holds on for dear life. The tour guide drives ahead of you in a snowmobile with a passenger sleigh attached that the dogs have been trained to follow.

The tour can accommodate up to six people with both sleds, and the mushers can trade off. Note to visitors: bring goggles. Snow is likely to fly in your face most of the time you sit in the sled under the musher. I learned that the hard way.

The most important thing to remember when leading the sled dogs is the foot brake that digs into the snow and which you stand on when you want the dogs to stop because otherwise they’ll keep going — trust me. When you guide the sled, it’s a lot like skiing, where you need to lean into turns to keep your center of gravity.

Before the tour, Donald introduced us to the dogs and their unique personalities.

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Photo by Susan Gonzalez/ Aurora Sentinel

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Photo by Susan Gonzalez/ Aurora Sentinel

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Photo by Susan Gonzalez/ Aurora Sentinel

First, there were the lead dogs, Farmer and Chicken.

“These guy are 4 years old. You want the smart ones up front,” Donald said  matter-of-factly.

Then there was Voodoo, the rookie-in-training who just turned one and kept attempting to sprint at full force even when the sled was at a stop. One of the dogs, Mackey, had an appetite for destruction, Donald said.

“He ate through two of these harnesses yesterday. Just like puppies at home, these guys get in trouble too,” she said.

And Good Times Adventures has 163 of these beautiful, fluffy troublemakers who range in age from 3 months old to 15 years old.

Tours generally last a little more than an hour and trails exist for everyone from beginner-level mushers to more advanced drivers, with opportunities to wind through the narrow pine-tree paths and downhill through the valley.

It’s nothing to match Alaska’s Iditarod sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome, which entails trekking nearly 1,200 miles across harsh mountains and sea-ice terrain. But the experience does give one a taste of the frosty mode of transport now nearly extinct.

In the 1700s, the Inupiaq and Yup’ik peoples used wood latticed and gut-skin covered kayaks plus  ski-like runners to glide over snow when pulled by dogs, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

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on Thursday Jan. 21, 2016 at Good Times Dog Sledding. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160121-Dog Sledding-Breckenridge, Colorado

on Thursday Jan. 21, 2016 at Good Times Dog Sledding. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160121-Dog Sledding-Breckenridge, Colorado

on Thursday Jan. 21, 2016 at Good Times Dog Sledding. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160121-Dog Sledding-Breckenridge, Colorado

on Thursday Jan. 21, 2016 at Good Times Dog Sledding. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160121-Dog Sledding-Breckenridge, Colorado

on Thursday Jan. 21, 2016 at Good Times Dog Sledding. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

The demand for sled dogs spiked with the gold rushes that hit Alaska in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“During one of the big rushes it was said that no stray dogs could be found on the streets of Seattle, having all been rounded up and shipped to Alaska,” the BLM writes. “Malamutes, huskies and other breeds were mixed to haul freight and passengers.”

Sarah Spalla, kennel manager with Good Times Adventures, said she often hears from visitors that they don’t expect they can go dog sledding anywhere, even in the snowy Rocky Mountains.

But for Spalla, working day-in-day-out training, guiding, feeding and of course, cleaning up lots of dog poop, is an experience she would never trade for more 21st-century modes of transportation.

“This winter is number twelve for me,” she said, adding that much of the staff at Good Times Adventures have been with the company for a more than a decade. “Every dog is special, they’re definitely members of the team. There are a few here and there that I don’t see eye-to-eye with, but they’re all different. Some are bossy, some are sweet and some not so much. No day is exactly the same.”

What struck me most about the dogs when I spent a few hours with them was the variation in their eyes:  from icy blue to those with two different-colored eyes or multi-colored brown, green and yellows staring into my soul—or so it felt—with their signature piercing husky gaze.

And for the pet lovers out there, don’t worry, when the dogs are ready to retire, they are adopted out as house pets.

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