It’s been about a month since we got our first snow fall, but there’s still barely two inches on the ground. Like the title of this post says though, we go to sleds as soon as they can slide.
I think this is one of the big differences between us and a lot of other mushers, especially around these parts. Some folks like to wait until there is enough snow for the trail to be perfect, smooth and so safe a crash is almost totally avoidable. However, where is the fun in that?!
We got into dogs for adventure and its bad enough that at this point we’ve run nearly every trail in this area. There’s not a lot of new, unexpected things to encounter, but there can still be a lot of adventure in early season sledding even on a trail you know.
For one thing, the dogs are super jazzed to be on a new trail, since where we sled is not where we train with fourwheelers. So the first day you take that trail for the year, the dogs immediately shift into high gear whether you want them to or not.
Secondly, they’re used to pulling 500 pounds of fourwheeler on sand, so going to a 25 pound sled slidding on ice is super easy for them. We try to weight it down with bags of dog food, but its still way esier on them which they love too.
Third, early season sledding means a lot of the bumps and tussucks haven’t filled in yet, so it is REAL active mushing. Your not just standing there like in the middle of winter, right now you’re ACTIVELY driving a sled, leaning left and right, muscling the sled around obstacles not covered by snow, etc. It’s a great time to have fun and the sled handling skills prepare you for the worst a race could through at you.
Same goes for the dogs. This kind of traing is similar to the conditions they’d see in the Farewell Burn of Iditarod or on jumbling ice rivers, so its good for them to learn to take uneven steps and understand certain obstacles and how to navigate them. Early season sledding can ctually prevent injuries later in the season.
As stated, being the first one out for the season means you never know what to expect. We get a lot of wind storms here, so you never know where you might find a blown down tree across the trail. On our first few runs we always carry a chainsaw and an axe, and on our first run this year we almost neded them.
We were coming around a tight corner on an ice covered swamp where the snow had blown off. I could see around the corner, but luckily my leaders saw a huge tree down in the trail and instead of deciding to jump it, which they often will do (which can cause problems if the sled snags on it), my leader that day was Buliwyf who is just an absolutely amazingly talented leader. He read the situation and could have jumped it and instead he ran about 10 feet to the left, then without being called geed right back onto the trail after we hd ogtten around it. We never even had time to call out commands. He was done before we even realized what he had done. It ws awesome to witness, and I’m glad that after 10 years of doing this, we can still be surprised AND impressed by our dogs abilities.
Another perk of early season sledding, you’re not yet following a trail. The dogs are putting one in, so they learn lot about leading and how to think in lead.
Also, going out of the yard on two inches, rather than trucking the dogs 50 miles to 4-6 inches in the hills means we’re saving tons of gas money, which is always good when you’ve got more than 40 mouths to feed.
But by far the best part of early season sledding is being out there alone with the dogs. In a few weeks it will be impossible to run the 30 mile loops we’ve been doing without seeing seven other teams daily, so the solitude right now is something we don’t take for granted.
Hope you enjoyed the pic of this sunset. If you look close you can see there is no trail in front of the leaders, they way it should be. In mushing, if not in life, its always better to set your own path, rather than waiting for someone else to do it and then following there’s.