Sled dogs, mushers prepare for snow, race

One of Tim Thiessen’s dogs yawns as Thiessen hooks up the rest of his team to the sled in the Summit Top parking lot before the start of the eight dog race at the 2010 Rocky Mountain Dog Sled Races.

The call of the wild makes its annual return to Grand Mesa this weekend when the Colorado Mountain Sled Dog Club and the Colorado Mountain Mushers host their fifth annual Rocky Mountain High Sled Dog sprints.

The action goes from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday from the Summit Top parking lot off Colorado Highway 65 between Land’s End Road and the County Line ski trails.

Watch for the signs.

I recently received a sled full of great advice from race organizer Steve Bethka.

Dress warmly: Last year’s races went off in a full blizzard, so go well prepared because bad weather is good weather for sled dogs.

Lunch: Bethka said a food vendor will be on site, but he failed to mention there’s sure to be plenty of dog food if things get really desperate.

Mr. Barks-a-lot: It’s rarely quiet around these races, but the excitement really picks up when the dogs are hooked into their traces. These dogs love to run.

Easy spectating: Spectators can walk among the racers as they ready themselves and their teams. They also can walk to the start chute, where fences keep the dogs and spectators separate.

They’re off: Don’t miss the race start to get a true feeling for the dogs’ impressive power and speed.

They’re back: Sled dogs can average 15 miles per hour, often running under four minutes per mile.

Talk to the mushers: Bethka said most mushers welcome questions and often will let people help them with hooking the dogs to the sled and moving them to the starting line.

Talk to the dogs: Most sled dogs (and mushers) are very friendly and sometimes the dogs can be petted, Bethka said, but ask before touching the dogs.

Races by the number: Race distances are determined by the number of dogs pulling the sled. Four-dog teams will run 4 miles, six dogs run 6 miles and eight-dog teams run 8 or 12 miles.

One-man teams: Skijorers (a breed apart, in many ways) race for 4 miles behind one- or two-dog teams.

Bring your camera, leave your dog: These racing dogs are working, not socializing, and your dog will be a distraction or worse.


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