Downeast Dog News
https://downeastdognews.villagesoup.com/p/1714674

Dog Sled Adventures in Maine

By Susan Spisak | Jan 01, 2018
Photo by: Kate Sfeir

It’s winter in Maine, so why not start the year with an exhilarating dog sled adventure? Visitmaine.com says that taking a guided dog sled trek, slicing through the snow and across icy lakes, being pulled by furry companions who live to run, is a must-try for visitors to the state--but since you already live here, take advantage of the numerous recreational guide services that can provide you with this unforgettable escape.

Steve Crone, owner of New England Dogsledding at the Telemark Inn Wilderness Lodge near Bethel in Oxford County, has 25 years of experience in this field and says the state is a great place for this awesome experience. “Maine has a unique vastness to it that lends itself well for winter dog sledding sports.”

With recreational winter dog sledding, you’ll get outdoors in Maine’s magical frontier and be pulled by a team of well-socialized and strong dogs, often Alaskan, Yukon or Iditarod-style Huskies that thrive on this sport. You’ll sit in a toboggan-style or basket sled, toasty in layers of clothing and wrapped in a blanket, while the guide (aka musher) drives the dog team standing behind on the back of the sled runners.

Many guide services also offer packages where you can learn to drive the packto fully realize what dog sledding is all about: getting close to nature and becoming one with the animal team.

I had the opportunity to talk to Crone and a few other guides who offer an array of packages, including short, to half-day to days-long vacations. And while their personalities differ, they do have commonalities: their love of their kennel dogs, the great outdoors, and dog sledding.

For a walk back in time, visit the aforementioned New England Dogsledding at the historic Telemark Inn Wilderness Lodge. Prudential Insurance creator, Leon Blanchard, began building the Adirondack-type structure in 1898 as his wilderness retreat (it took him five years to complete). Current owner Crone is a character (in a good, nature-loving way) and he likes being at the edge of the wilds with his Alaskan Huskies--and hopes his guests will enjoy that as well. “It’s a powerful experience.” He shares that his “sweet” dogs (that he’s super proud of) love new trails and new scents. “That’s what gets them running.”

He offers several dog sled packages, so “discerning” individuals and families can learn to run a team of athletic dogs, manage them on the trails, appreciate how to care for them, and settle in for a stay in his iconic lodge if they desire. He says he’s “smaller-volume, higher quality” and his trips are set in the White Mountain National Forest area or in the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge. His business collaborator and long-time partner, Leonarda “Leo” Joost, has a farmhouse and barn in New Hampshire’s remote north area, and they’re planning on utilizing trail systems there as well (it’s higher, thus colder, so it will lengthen their season). They also offer year round animal and nature programs.

Registered Maine Guides Caroline Blair-Smith and husband Andy Bartleet own Mornington Crescent Sled Dogs in western Maine. They lovingly refer to their small kennel of 29 Alaskan Huskies as their “sled pets.” Like Crone, they have young dogs through retirees--in other words their on-site kennel dogs stay with them for life. She says this is a passion for them--it began in 2002 as an outgrowth of their “day jobs” at the experience-based outdoor program, Outward Bound/Maine (where they still work).

Blair-Smith says when a group signs up, they’ll be the only clients for that day. She’s happy to let them sit back and enjoy the show or help set up the lines, harness and hook up the dogs in place, and take a turn driving. And the dogs do have to go in their proper “position.” There’s a lead dog or two (they may run in tandem), and they set the pace and direct the pack. Swing dogs are behind, aiding with turns and curves. Team dogs are next and add power, and wheel dogs, the strongest and largest, are last.

Lone Wolf Guiding Services in Shirley Mills is owned and run by Maine Master Guide Mark Patterson and his wife, Ashley (at 18, she was the youngest person to finish fourth place or better in Ft. Kent, Maine’s Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Race). They not only offer cold-weather dog sledding but moose watching, fishing, and canoeing. One nice dog sled package he likes to offer families and those individuals who aren’t up to a lengthy wilderness run is the “Kennel Tour.” Each person has a 20 minute basket ride, while other guests in the party meet their racing dogs. Then the group convenes to their dog yard to meet their young kennel dogs and pups.

Lone Wolf also offers 4 hour hands-on trips. Patterson says they give individuals in good physical shape the opportunity to run their own team. There’s a tutorial, including braking info (a key component), and he allows them to set up the team and equipment. He follows along on a snowmobile (in an unobtrusive fashion) and also speeds ahead occasionally to alert other snowmobilers that a dog sled tour is coming. He does check up on mushers to make sure they don’t looked “panicked.” If so, Patterson will stop and help out. They also offer custom and overnight trips.

Kevin Slater and Polly Mahoney, Master Maine Guides and life-partners of almost three decades, own and run Mahoosuc Guide Service. They offer mountain lodging, winter guide-training courses, overnight camping trips, numerous year-round packages, as well as native cultural trips in Maine and Quebec. As far as dog sledding, Mahoney says it affords one the opportunity to get close to nature and slows people down. “It’s very peaceful.” They ask their customers to take it all in quietly. “It’s a richer experience,” she says.

Slater and Mahoney have an interesting package, “Women’s Trips and Weekends.” They follow the same format as weekend dog sledding trips with their Yukon Huskies that they breed, but it gets many out of their usual box. “I find women do more when there isn’t a man around to do it.” They’re forced to do “manly” things, like sawing wood for a fire. She adds that it gives women a sense of empowerment and builds confidence. It’s a great trip for gal pals, sisters, and moms and daughters.

Patterson says the most exciting thing about this sport is that the dogs adore it. “You can tell these dogs love what they’re doing. It’s neat to see that.” Mahoney agrees. “These dogs are so enthusiastic…to see their joy. When you undo the knot and release the dogs, it is total silence. All you hear is their panting and feet on the snow, and the runners on the snow. Traveling with the dogs is like a primeval and spiritual experience. It takes you to a different place.”

If you’re interested in these trips, including recommended dress for these wintry expeditions, visit https://visitmaine.com/things-to-do/winter-activities/dog-sledding for more details on these and other Guide Services.