By Sarah Sekula, Published in USA Today
If you’re intrigued by the Iditarod (which starts Saturday), but aren’t ready for more than 1,150 grueling miles of frozen tundra, ease into the dog-powered sport with a lesson or two. Whether you are a newbie or a mushing master, there are plenty of places to play in the powder and perfect your dog-driving skills. Outside magazine editor Chris Keyes recommends places to caravan with canines and shares them with Sarah Sekula for USA TODAY.
Maine Dogsledding Adventures
Revel in the thrill of dog-powered transportation as Alaskan sled dogs take you over rugged trails near Mount Katahdin. “You’ll mush 25 miles through the forest and lake wilderness south of Baxter State Park to the company’s own wilderness cabin on Nahmakanta Lake, where you spend the night,” Keyes says. “The next day, head back another 25-plus miles by a different trail, stopping midday to build a big open fire and warm up with hot tea and lunch.” (Through March 20.) 207-731-8888; mainedogsledding.com
Dog Power Adventures
Prince George, B.C.
“Guests stay in the comfortable Musher’s Den and are served a hearty Canadian breakfast each morning before hitching the teams and heading down the trail,” Keyes says. “After a cold day’s work in the mountains, relax over dinner in front of the fireplace. Guests are encouraged to involve themselves as much as desired, and help with the kennel chores is always appreciated.” 250-967-4479; dogpower.ca
Absaroka Dogsled Treks
Nature lovers flock to these dog-sledding trails, just 20 miles north of Yellowstone National Park, where it’s not uncommon to spot buffalo, bighorn sheep or the occasional wolf. “Students also learn about sledding equipment, canine physiology and training techniques,” Keyes says. “The full-day tour includes a lunch of grilled buffalo steak and trout, with plenty of hot drinks, French onion soup and homemade bread and cheese. And in good Montana fashion, it’s all served on a tanned deerskin.” 800-468-9232; extrememontana.com
Wilderness Adventures Dog Sled Tours
Lake Tahoe, Calif.
You can get a taste of the life of a musher while gliding through the Sierra Nevadas. “Cover up to 20 miles on a two-and-a-half-hour mush amidst beautiful terrain and breathtaking views,” Keyes says. 530-550-8133; tahoedogsledtours.com
Paws for Adventure
This spectacular mushing site is located on a 280-acre homestead, just a 20-minute drive from downtown Fairbanks. “Two to three guides will take you deep into the wilderness after a training session, traveling up to 30 miles a day for six days and five nights.” You’ll mush toward the base of a glacier, camp at Tangle Lake, and spend two nights at comfortable Maclaren Lodge, Keyes says. 907-378-3630; pawsforadventure.com
Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing
Wolfsong offers day and weekend trips. A three-day outing includes two days of driving a team on four-hour trips with breaks for lunch, Keyes says. “Day three: Take time to ski, snowshoe or explore nearby ice caves, then strap on a headlamp for a nighttime mush run by moonlight.” 800-681-9746; wolfsongadventures.com
Eden Dog Sledding
Eden Mills, Vt.
“To escape the urban slush fest, you don’t have to travel far: Eden Dog Sledding is only a four-hour drive from Boston,” Keyes says. “Eden’s Alaskan Huskies are never chained and free to roam the 75-acre property. The well-maintained, dog-dedicated trail system runs through quintessential New England scenery and, because of its micro-climate, continues to receive snow when the rest of the region thaws out.” If you’re feeling ambitious, owner Jim Blair can instruct you in skijoring, a sport that combines cross-country skiing with sled-dog mushing. You can trust his tutelage: He’s a national skijor champion. 802-635-9070; edendogsledding.com
Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge
Wintergreen offers day trips, lodge-to-lodge dog-sledding vacations and dogsled camping adventures. However, it’s best known for its Arctic trek to Qaanaaq, Greenland. “Along with getting the latest information on Arctic climate change, you’ll snow camp in single-digit temperatures for 10 days and dogsled the snowy alien landscape for 300 miles over sea ice on coastal fjords and Arctic tundra,” Keyes says. 877-753-3386; dogsledding.com
Voyageur Outward Bound’s dog-sledding course
The course enables participants to explore backcountry terrain and hone survival skills. “You’ll learn the importance of using your own body heat, exercise, food and properly layered clothing to stay warm in frigid temperatures,” Keyes says. In the end, “students are encouraged to try a night or two of solo camping with the hounds.” 866-467-7651; outward-bound.org
A rowdy pack of 45 huskies give guests an over-the-top welcome at this charming ranch. Soon after, the athletic canines are sprinting through a swath of maple trees by way of your French commands. Post-trail run, relax at the Halte Sucrée bed and breakfast with a hot drink and a home-cooked meal. Fashionable mittens and hats made of llama and goat fur are for sale. nordikaventures.com