The Alaskan Huskies of Nature’s Kennel Sled Dog Adventures of McMillan, prepare to give a family of three a dog sled ride Saturday at Boyne Highlands.(Photo by Christina Rohn)
By Christina Rohn, Special to Harbor Light Newspaper
Their eyes fixate on the landscape before them. Their bodies tug eagerly at the harness. They yelp in anticipation for what's to come.
And in a split second - they're off.
With every bit of strength, they dig into the ground and work together as one cohesive unit.
The world is silent, but for the faint pattering of paws on the snow and their breath which seems to linger in the air.
The Alaskan Huskies from Nature's Kennel Sled Dog Adventures in McMillan have been a staple at Boyne Highlands for the past seven years.
Each weekend, during the ski season, guests are able to experience a sled dog adventure of their own - with their choice of half-hour, or hour-long tours.
"People have a blast ... it's definitely an experience way out of the ordinary for the lower 48 (states)," said Ginny O'Brien, a first-year guide with Nature's Kennel. "People who tend to do this are drawn to adventurous things."
Reymundo Cordova of Toluca, Mexico had only been skiing twice before trying his hand at dog sledding Saturday at Boyne Highlands.
"We don't have dog sledding in Mexico ... and we're here, so why not?" he said with enthusiasm. "This is definitely different from home."
Carrie Bell of Kalamazoo, who went on a dog sled tour Saturday with her husband, Chuck, and 5-year-old daughter, Addison, said she was impressed with the dog's power.
"I was surprised at how fast they were," she said.
"I thought it was neat how they all worked together," said Chuck Bell of Kalamazoo.
Dave Delcourt, assistant manager and musher for Nature's Kennel, said the most frequently asked questions when guests arrive to dog sled is: "Do the dogs enjoy doing this?"
"We wouldn't go if they didn't like it," he said.
Delcourt said they begin training Nature Kennel's 160 Alaskan Huskies for the winter season in late August, or early September in the Upper Peninsula.
"We train them with ATV's when it gets below 50 (degrees)," he said. "We have to get the dogs back in shape because they've been sitting around all summer gaining weight."
Only a select few - 16 of the 160 huskies - are chosen to be part of Nature's Kennel owner, Ed Stielstra's, Iditarod team.
The Iditarod, which was founded in 1973, is a more than 1,000-mile dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska.
On March 1, Stielstra will be competing for his eighth time in the epic event.
Tasha Stielstra said guests at Boyne may be surprised to know that many of the huskies that give sled tours at Boyne Highlands are ex-Iditarod dogs, or young dogs who may participate in the event in the near future.
Tasha said she believes dog sledding is something everyone should try at least once.
"It's a great winter activity that anyone of any age or ability can try," she said. "Our rides at Boyne are very accessible for those who may not be able to ski, but who want to still stay at the resort and participate in other activities."
Delcourt said taking a dog sled tour at Boyne is just a glimpse into the world of dog sledding and racing.
"Going here is definitely a bit of an introduction ... you get to pet the dogs, and you get to watch them run and do what they do best," he said. "But if you really want to do it, come up to the kennel and you can run your own team."
Nature's Kennel has a variety of packages for individuals, couples or families who want to try driving their own dog team.
"It's exciting, invigorating and calming all at the same time," Tasha said. "Many people describe it as one of the best things they have ever experienced."
For more information about Nature's Kennel Sled Dog Adventures, visit www.natureskennel.com, or call (906) 748-0513.
To book a dog sled tour at Boyne Highlands, visit www.boyne.com, or call (231) 526-3835.