By MIKE NORTON
BELLAIRE, MI – It’s hard to tell who is most excited, the kids or the dogs. Both groups seem to be making plenty of noise.
It’s a clear Saturday afternoon at Shanty Creek Resorts, and in the shadow of the Schuss Mountain ski area, the resort golf course is buried under nice white snow. Not so great for golf, maybe, but perfect for dogsledding – and Mike King’s team of Siberian huskies are eager to head out over the rolling terrain as soon as he gives the word. He’s standing at the rear of the sled and a wide-eyed youngster is sitting up front, bundled up to her chin.
Suddenly, the four-dog team surges forward and they’re off. You can hear the wooden runners hissing on the snow, even above the cheers of the other kids who are waiting for their own turn.
For many youngsters, one of the highlights of a winter visit to Michigan’s Traverse City region is riding a dogsled over its snowy hills and meadows, and the Saturday dogsledding adventures at Shanty Creek have been a favorite for the past eight seasons. The rides are fairly brief and relatively inexpensive (a one-mile, 15-minute cruise over the 10th and 18th fairways runs just $15) and they’re limited to children – or very small adults — under 100 pounds.
That’s because these huskies aren’t hard-core sledding dogs; they’re big lovable pets who just happen to need lots of exercise. In fact, King’s dogsledding company is called “Pets That Pull.”
There are plenty of dogsled race teams in this part of Michigan, and kennels who are glad to take visitors on heart-stopping rides, but King says his team doesn’t have the hyperactivity usually associated with racing dogs. They’re a relaxed and mellow bunch. (In summertime he exercises them on the public bike trail in Traverse City using a special wheeled sled, and they’re invariably friendly, patient and laid-back with other trail users.)
“I don’t race,” says King, who works at Shanty Creek as a ski and snowboard instructor. “I just train them to give rides to the kids.”
King’s relationship with sled dogs began years ago when he and his wife adopted a Siberian husky as a favor to a friend. In spite of themselves (at the time they had a very small dog) they discovered they really loved the breed, and before long they were accumulating huskies the way some people collect baseball cards.
Since huskies love pulling sleds more than almost anything else in the universe, King bought a classic wooden dogsled and started giving rides to his young snowboarding students. They proved so popular that eventually he went to his boss and asked if the Shanty Creek would be interested in a regular arrangement. They were – and they still are.
“It’s amazingly popular; he really packs them in,” says Shanty Creek spokeswoman Lindsey Southwell. “It’s been a great fit for us, because Mike and the dogs are already here on site, and once he’s done giving ski lessons they’re ready to go do dogsled rides.”
The rides are available every Saturday and on holidays from 4 to 6 pm. Reservations are always recommended, and can be made by calling Schuss Mountain at (800) 678-4111, ext. 3690. For more information about the dogs themselves, go to www.petsthatpull.com
Adults who want to combine their dogsled riding with a little weekend wine-tasting have been heading up to “Dog Sledding in the Vines” at Bowers Harbor Vineyards, just north of Traverse City. On selected winter Saturdays, a sled dog team from Second Chance Mushers have been giving rides through the nearby vineyards.
As it happens, these huskies and malamutes aren’t ordinary sled dogs, either. They’ve been rescued from shelters and dog pounds by their owner, nurse Sarah Dobbrastine, who has rehabilitated them by training them to pull sleds. Like the Kings, Dobbrastine loves sled dogs, and adopted her first dog over 15 years ago. She quickly discovered, though, that her animals quickly grew fractious and fidgety unless they got lots of vigorous exercise – so she, too, found a sled for them to pull.
The vineyard sled rides have turned out to be a popular attraction at Bowers Harbor, a small family-style winery on the picturesque Old Mission Peninsula. For more information about the program call 231-223-7615 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about winter activities in the Traverse City area, as well as lodging, dining and entertainment options in Michigan’s “True North,” contact Traverse City Tourism at www.traversecity.com or (800) 872-8377.
This is a press-ready travel feature from Traverse City Tourism. Please feel free to use it in any way you like. You may run it in part or in its entirety — with or without byline — or use it as a source for stories of your own. And if I can be of any additional help (photos, for instance) please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Mike Norton, Media Relations Manager
Traverse City Tourism
P: (231) 995-3909
F: (231) 947-2621