Dog Sledding in Big Sky, Montana
By: Blythe Beaubien April 28th, 2014
Earlier this winter I was lucky enough to experience authentic dogsledding in Big Sky and the Moonlight Basin area. My family came to town for a visit and since they don’t ski, I had to come up with other winter activities in Big Sky to keep them occupied. Over the years, I had heard that the dogsledding experience was not to be missed, but as a local, usually you don’t branch out and away from your normal everyday activities. That is, until you have family or friends who come to town who want to see and do it all. Let’s just say that I’m so glad that my family doesn’t ski, because if they did, we wouldn’t have had this experience of a lifetime.
The winter dogsled experience can be booked through Spirit of the North, a tour company based out of Ennis, Mont., but they do many half-day trips in the Big Sky area. We booked our trip for New Years Day 2014, and what an amazing way to ring in the New Year. We did the afternoon half day trip as we figured it would be a bit warmer and sunnier.
To meet the dogs and the tour operators, we drove up the Big Sky spur road, past Big Sky Resort and into Moonlight Basin. We followed the signs for “dog sledding” which took us to the gate at the private Jack Creek Road. Like magic, as we pulled up to the gate, the gate opened and we drove through. Just a few yards ahead we saw a few of the dogs excitedly running alongside the road as if to guide us to where we should park. We parked the car and as we got out we were greeted by a number of friendly Alaskan Husky sled dogs. The dog adoring family that we are, we were already in love.
The tour operators invited us over to the sled area. They made sure that we had plenty of layers of warm clothes, good winter boots, and the spirit of adventure. I also recommend wearing ski goggles or sunglasses, both for warmth and protection from the wind during the trip.
We waited for the rest of the group to arrive and then the excitement began. The dogs were so eager to get to work. They were barking and yelping and running about. There is no mistaking the fact that these are working dogs, they know that they have a job to do and they aim to please. All of the tour guests were invited to help link up the dogs to the sleds. I was intrigued by how the tour operators matched the dogs together, knowing which dogs got along with which and which dogs had secret love affairs and needed to “work together.” Each sled had a team of 8-10 dogs that would be pulling us along the trail.
Once the dogs were leashed up to the sleds, we were asked to get into the sleds. The sleds hold 2-4 people depending on the size of the people in your group. And, for the brave ones, you can even volunteer to drive a sled. I was too nervous and my sister was recovering from the prior evening’s festivities. But, our dad was very up to the challenge. When he raised his hand and volunteered to drive our sled, my sister and I looked at each other wide eyed and said, “Oh boy, here goes nothing!” After a few tips and pointers from the guides, he stood on the back of the sled, my sister and I got into the sled and we held on for dear life.
The dogs were still barking loudly and at this point we were all anxious to get going. The teams of dogs and the sleds took off one at a time towards the groomed trail through the woods. Seconds after we took off it was so quiet and peaceful, the dogs had stopped barking and they were hard at work. It amazed me to see how in tune they were with each other and how they just knew what to do. The ride was relaxing, picturesque with views of Lone Mountain, the Spanish Peaks and the surrounding Lee Metcalf Wilderness area. For me, the experience was very spiritual. It was a way to see the Big Sky area that was so different and unique. Watching the dogs work together as a team was impressive and something I’ve yet to see humans figure out.
The entire trip lasted almost 3 hours and we traveled over eight miles of scenic terrain. We stopped half way for a hot cocoa and cookie break and a chance to interact with and meet more of the dogs. Soon enough, the dogs became anxious and excited again and it was time to head back to the “ranch.”
Once we arrived back at the starting point, again all guests were encouraged to help unleash the dogs and help the tour guides get the dogs back into their little crates for their journey back to Ennis. The dogs were exhausted but full of pride. They just finished a hard day’s work and knew that they’d be treated and rewarded when they got home.
Dogsledding in Big Sky was truly an experience that I will never forget. Although it was months ago, I can still smell the fresh air, hear the sounds of the dogs, and feel the sense of calm that came over me as we were sledding through the forest. For visitors and locals alike, I sincerely recommend the Spirit of the North dogsled tour. It’s unlike any other adventure I’ve ever had.
For more information and to book a dogsled adventure, please visit www.huskypower.com