Skiing, boarding and snowshoeing are not the only ways to get outdoors and play in the snow. New Hampshire offers a different way to enjoy the winter landscapes, one most people have never even thought of trying: dog sledding. And in Jefferson, NH, the people (and dogs) at Muddy Paw would like to show you the sport.
The people who operate Muddy Paw consider their dogs to be a part of the staff. Watching the human staff with the dogs is like watching a group of friends interact with one another. Dog sledding is a sport in which the relationship between dog and driver is very personal. Any good driver will tell you that each dog has a separate personality and, like people, must be dealt with and handled individually.
The dog sledding experience
Dog sleds are a thing of beauty. Lightweight and made mainly of bent wood strips with wooden runners, sleds have passenger seats that are padded with hides and wool. Nicely tucked in and covered, riders travel over the snow-covered trails in comfort, while the driver stands on the back rails, controlling the dogs with reins, a drag brake and mostly by verbal commands.
Each team has a lead dog, carefully chosen by the team driver to set the proper pace and to encourage the other dogs to run as a team. One of the most remarkable things for first time dog sledders is to experience the excitement of the dogs when they realize that a team is being selected for a run. Rapidly a chorus of barks and howls rises as each dog begs to be included. The pitch of excitement seems to rise higher as each successive dog is chosen for the team.
Hitching up and settling down
One of the great things about Muddy Paw is that they involve riders in the full experience. They carefully explain the role of the animals and encourage riders to join in, talking to the dogs, petting them and helping fit harnesses to the dogs and the sleds.
The enthusiasm of the dogs to be off and running is evident throughout the entire experience. So anxious are they to be off that sled brakes are set and the dogs tied throughout the loading process. At the driver’s signal, they take off at a dead run and the barking ceases as they race along the trail.
On the trail in the White Mountains
Considering the hubbub of the departure, the ride is amazingly quiet, the only sounds the creaking of the sled and the sound of sliding runners. Over narrow trails cut through the deep forests and across open fields, the teams travel at a moderate pace, allowing riders to enjoy the quiet and the beauty of the forests and mountains around them
Like humans, dogs become irritated with one another from time to time. Also like humans, some dogs can be lazy, holding back and letting others do the work. When these occur, drivers halt the team, shifting positions of the dogs to achieve the smoothest ride. A real treat for riders who are interested occurs when riders take control of the team and drive the sled. This, of course, depends entirely on the interest of the rider, and is at the discretion of the driver,.
Rides of varying length are available, from their Presidential Range Ride of about 1.5 hours (7-15 miles, $265 for up to 2 persons weighing a total of under 325 lbs) to longer trips, as well as half-day dog sledding clinics, drive-your-own trips (Mon-Wed, $170 pp, min of 4 persons) and even overnight trips. For more specifics check their trip options online.
Muddy Paw as a sled dog rescue league
In addition to running dog sledding outings for the public, Muddy Paw also acts as a shelter for other sled dogs that have retired. With approximately 100 dogs of their own, they have a number of animals that reach the end of their sledding lives, and they also take in other retired dogs. Check their website for a list of retirees available for adoption.
Getting to Muddy Paw and where to stay
From greater the Boston area, take I-93 north and, just beyond Franconia Notch, take Route 3 to Twin Mountain, continuing on Route 115 to Jefferson. After about 8 miles, take Valley Road on the right for about a mile and a half. For more specific directions check their website.
For lodging options, consider the restored Mountain View Grand Hotel in Whitefield, the Royalty Inn in Gorham or the always welcoming and charming Mount Washington B&B on Route 2 in Shelburne. Above all, while in the area, don’t miss dining at Libby’s Bistro in Gorham.