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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


Dogsleds: The Other Snowmobile

By Jenna Woginrich


Tags: Cold Antler Farm, dogs, dogsleds, snow,

Sled Dogs in Snow
   PHOTO BY JENNA WOGINRICH

Here in Vermont there is plenty of snow. And when there is snow on the ground in rural America, the chainsaw-buzz of snowmobiles isn’t far behind. But for some of us there’s a different (and might I add quieter) style to getting around over the icy roads and trails. It’s clean, it’s green, and it runs on renewable energy. Yes folks, meet the dogsled.

My own dogs are working homestead housedogs. Their names are Jazz and Annie and while they may seem like couch potatoes when you visit the farm during high garden season — they are a force to be reckoned with when the rhubarb is under 3 inches of ice. When the snow falls we’re outside and in harness. Thanks to our lightweight Swedish-style kicksled we’re able to mush for a few miles at a time, even with just a two-dog team. The super light 20-pound sled and the help of my kicking keeps us going at a decent clip. Besides providing exercise for us all, another benefit of mushing is that it helps me do everyday chores around the farm like hauling firewood and running out to the mailbox to bring in packages.

And folks, you don’t need a pack of huskies to start sailing by those SUVs stuck in ditches. All you need is a healthy and happy dog with a love of running. Dog sports like skijoring (attaching a dog in harness to a belt you wear around your waist while you cross country ski) can be practiced with just one dog. It sounds awkward but the combination of a properly harnessed dog and your skis can make the usual winter walk a full-blown mushing adventure. Not to mention confuse and frighten your neighbors, which, let’s be honest, is half the fun.

If you’re interested in getting your own dog in harness, check out sleddogcentral.com. It’s a web community of people dedicated to mushing and skijoring. There you’ll find everything from local mentors, area clubs and respected outfitters. It’s a great home base for forums, advice and training tips. I suggest you check it out soon — that lab over there on the couch looks like he could use a few laps around the park.

See you on the trail!

john de groot
5/16/2009 1:53:18 PM

I modified my sled this year, while living in New Brunswick Canada, to be pulled on suburban roads. Two huskies, one pure Eskimo, and one half Alaskan/half Eskimo, pulled my wheeled sled comfortably for about 3-4 miles a day. The only danger with Huskies is that they want to sniff along the road, and pee. They need to be disciplined to keep running, and permitted to do their thing at natural halts. I would kick for the uphills. You just need good wheels on the sled. We wore out one set The brake would be me holding and throwing the sled into the snow bank. We would pull over as soon as a car went by, and it was a 50 kilometre an hour zone. I never had a problem. It is a reasonably heavy sled. Three dogs would be ample, but my third dog was killed much further north that fall. I miss my dogs! I am overseas right now.


sherry sutherby
4/18/2009 6:23:37 PM

Ditto on everything Jenna said. We have a small sled-dog kennel (16 dogs). My husband has gone into town with a team to pick up supplies from the hardware, pick up feed from the local feed store, and haul wood. The dogs love it and are happiest when they are working. You don't need a big kennel to make it happen. A couple dogs, like Jazz and Annie, and you'll be ready to experience this silent sport. And a final word of caution, it's very addicting. Enjoy! Sherry http://www.russ-stickacres.com/ http://www.russ-stickacres.com/blog/