Maine Dogsledding: an unforgettable winter adventure
One of life’s great adventures awaits you. Consider gliding through the northwoods behind a team of sled dogs. Tuck yourself into a warm sled and enjoy the majestic winter wilderness on a truly unique journey. Listen to the swish of the sled runners and the panting dogs. Try your hand standing behind the sled to guide the team. You’ll have breathtaking views of mountains, lakes and wooded trails, plus a good chance of seeing wildlife or signs that wildlife is present, as an expert guide and a team of dogs take you through the western Maine wilderness.
Maine dogsledding becomes more popular every year as people discover the sport and realize you don’t need to be in Alaska or the Yukon to do it. There are many possibilities right here in Maine. You can dogsled recreationally or professionally, either racing or guiding.
At Mahoosuc Guide Services, we raise Yukon huskies, originally bred in the Yukon Territory to pull toboggans in deep, soft, snow conditions. Our huskies are well cared for on a 24/7 basis and return all the love we lavish on them. They get us outdoors, keep us focused on a goal, whether conditioning and training a team for trips or a race, and keep us in good physical shape with the exercise it requires to care for them properly.
Dogsledding is one of the most exciting yet peaceful ways to travel in the winter. The dogs’ enthusiasm to pull is contagious to the musher, yet the peaceful serenity of the surrounding nature takes you back to a nearly primeval feeling of closeness to the land and bond between humans and animals working together. Their lovable personalities will quickly win your heart. In no time, you’ll discover it is an addictive sport for both animal lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Having grown up in South China, Maine, and spent years in Alaska and the Yukon Territory, I learned to mush dogs in the bush. I chose to return to Maine and run guided trips in the Umbagog Lake and Mahoosuc Mountain areas in order to share this opportunity with other people. Some clients get “hooked” on the sport and purchase their own dogs to start a team, while others join us for a yearly trip to experience that thrill of standing on the runners.
Guided trips may last for 20 minutes, a full day, an overnight or for multiple days. At Mahoosuc Guide Service, we’ll provide you with all of the equipment you need from food to specialized winter gear such as skis, poles, boots, parkas, gaiters, sleeping bags and an ensolite ground pad, for a fun and comfortable experience. All we ask is that you are in good physical shape because it is challenging, and that you wear warm clothing and bring along a sense of adventure. If you haven’t tried it, get out and experience a dog sled ride; we guarantee you won’t be disappointed! f
Polly Mahoney and Kevin Slater own and operate Mahoosuc Guide Service of Newry in the western mountains of Maine.
Dogsledding in Maine
You don’t have to go to Alaska to mush dogs, you can plan your dogsledding adventure in Maine! There are many recreational mushers, racers and now more people are offering rides and tours throughout Maine. Many different types of dogs will pull sleds but it is in the breeding of huskies to want to run and pull. They LOVE their work!
Owning sled dogs is a huge commitment as they, like children, require a lot of time and want as much attention as you can give them and even more. Each dog has their own personality with feelings, moods and needs, just like people. Owning sled dogs isn’t for everyone as the care is 24/7 and the expense is huge. But it is also one of the most thrilling and unforgettable experiences one can have in their lives. The close connection one can have with dogs and nature is something that is hard to get anywhere.
Hooking up a team of huskies can be deafening with the excited barking and noise that is created but once you pull the knot of the tied up sled and are heading down the trail it is silent except for the panting dogs and sound of the dogsled runners on the snow. It is an experience that will stay with you forever!
People use different size teams depending on what they are doing but the minimum is usually three and can go upwards from there. There are different positions of the dogs in the team. The leader is in the front and the most important dog in having the team operate smoothly. They learn to hold the line tight so the dogs behind don’t get tangled, verbal commands are used for turning left and right and some mushers have their leaders trained to turn their teams totally around to go a different direction. Swing dogs run behind the leaders, team dogs in the middle and wheel dogs in front of the sled. The wheel dogs tend to be bigger, stronger dogs.
Tighten Up! Let’s Go! Those are the words the dogs LOVE to hear and we love to say before we pull the knot and head down the trail. Their enthusiasm is contagious!
At Mahoosuc they raise their dogs from puppies and keep them until they pass on. The level of care and commitment they have to our dogs is immense. In the summer they have pastures they run in daily to keep in shape and keep away boredom. Once they retire they move into our daylight basement and enjoy soft beds, no bugs, no blizzards and easy listening music on the radio. Our dogs’ lineage came from the Yukon Territory in Canada where Polly lived a subsistence lifestyle for 10 years with her dogs. They were featured in a couple movies; the Walt Disney Classic: Never Cry Wolf and Death Hunt with Charles Bronson. Safety is our number one concern on our trips. We don’t take the “thrills and spills” approach to mushing. Our clients and the dogs safety is paramount.
Mahoosuc offers day trips and fully outfitted overnight trips varying in length from 2 – 10 days in length. Our trips are as hands on as the client would like. Some people like to be a passenger in the sled, others want to handle a team alone, others like to go on a sled with a guide.
On the overnight trips people are camping in the luxury of traditional canvas wall tents heated by portable woodstoves and fir boughs as the floor. Everyone can enjoy warm hearty meals, close camaraderie and the occasional contented howl from the huskies right outside the tents.
Song in the Woods customized dogsled trips are designed with input from the customer so they get the kind of trip they feel suits them. We are a small kennel and strive to help people have a memorable trip that is safe and affordable. Our trips range from ½ day adventures to multi-day expeditions with a variety of lodging options. We operate mostly in the Moosehead Lake region but have also traveled to other area’s for colleges, schools and festivals.
There are lots of dogsledding adventure outfitters on Maine. In Rangeley, two options Activity Maine uncovered are: 1) MorningSong Wilderness Tours has day trips that include lunch that meet at 9 am at the Ecopelagicon Nature Store and returns by 4. Afternoon and evening tours meet at 2pm and you will enjoy supper on the trail and return by headlamp or moonlight. Grab some friends and have some fun! For more information on this outfit visit their facebook page: MorningSong Wilderness Tours LLC.
And 2) Rangeley Sled Dog Aventures you can drive the sled or just ride along. See the mountains as very few have ever seen them on picturesque trails. Warmth and safety are of the utmost importance. Hot drinks, fresh snacks, and a camaraderie between human and canine are just some of the
highlights. FMI visit rangeleydogsled.com
2012 Maine Lakes Mushers Bowl
Each year the Maine Lakes Mushers Bowl, sponsored by the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce continues to grow and add more activities to its list of fun events. The two day event will be held this year on January 21st and 22nd in Bridgton. The main events are the sled dog races and skijoring competition held both days at Five Fields Farm in South Bridgton.
Members of the Down East Sled Dog club compete for title points with the races sanctioned by the International Sled Dog Racing Association. The race course at Five Field Farm is considered one of the most challenging on the circuit and offers excellent viewing opportunities. In addition to the races there is a series of guided snow shoe hikes up nearby Bald Pate Mountain.
The other main venue is at Highland Lake Beach in downtown Bridgton. Here a number of fun family events are ongoing throughout Saturday and Sunday. The very popular sled dog rides on Highland Lake are always booked in advance and offer the riders a chance to experience the thrill and excitement of riding behind a team of sled dogs. Other outdoor activities include horse drawn wagon rides, ice fishing contests for youngsters which include all the necessary equipment and bait, free snowmobile rides, and a nature walk through Pondicherry Park led by a Lakes Environmental member. The highlight on Saturday is the ever popular “Freezin for a Reason, where hundreds of people from all ages jump into the lake to raise money for Harvest Hills Animal Shelter.
Not all the events are outdoors and there are plenty of things to do inside. From pancake breakfasts, chowder fests, and baked bean suppers, to a very competitive table tennis tournament and a less stressful Dodge Ball Massacre, there are lots of events for everyone. On Saturday night the historic Bridgton Town Hall comes to life with a dance complete with live music and the crowning of the Carnival King and Queen.
The Maine Lakes Mushers Bowl is affordable fun for the whole family. For more information visit www.mainelakesmushersbowl.com or call the Chamber office at 647-3472.