Running with the sled dogs

Photo: San Juan Sled Dogs

If you’re visiting Pagosa Springs during the winter season and looking for an adventure that involves man’s or woman’s four-legged friends, then Pagosa has the answer in two unique and fun businesses that thrive during the winter season.

Those businesses are Mountain Paws Dog Sled Tours and San Juan Sled Dogs. 

Mountain Paws Dog Sled Tours is owned and operated by Joy Marx and her husband, Michael. 

“Basically I have been working professionally for 9 years and before that, it was a hobby for 15 years. I had done a couple of week-long dog sled adventures in Canada,” Marx said. 

Marx runs two sleds and 21 sled dogs. Marx’s husband, Michael, helps out as a substitute guide when they get busy. The couple moved to Pagosa two years ago. 

“We really like it here. We are staying. We are not moving again,” Marx said. 

The sled dogs receive training from the time they are puppies. One of Marx’s dogs, a Siberian named Timber, began his training by greeting people and sitting in the sled.

“The first time I put a harness on him and hooked him up to the gang line, he was really nervous for about 5 seconds and then he said, ‘oh cool, this is what we are doing’ and took off. It’s ingrained, it’s just what they do. They love it,’’ Marx said. 

When it comes to teaching the lead sled dog, it can take a little longer. “Normally we have one of the older dogs kind of train the younger dogs to be a leader,” Marx said.  

  If the snow is less plentiful, Marx can also accommodate guests on tours that are pulled by the dogs in the Navajo State Park near the watchable wildlife pavilion, mile marker 19 off of Colo. 151. 

“I do have a summer cart tour where we teach the people how to harness and hook the dogs up,” Marx said. 

When the snow on the ground is plentiful, Marx likes to take guests on the trails in the Upper Blanco Basin area. 

“It is about 2.5 hours or longer and we go 6 to 7 miles, and what I do is I train the clients to drive the sled themselves. So with my sleds, they are not the big touring sleds, you can have one passenger and one driver per sled,” Marx said. “They get to know the dogs, help with the harnessing and the hookup, they follow me as the guide on the snowmobile and I make sure the people and the dogs are all good and I really get to experience the fun of it that way. It is a little bit more athletic of an adventure.”

  Marx recounted some of her more memorable client experiences. “My youngest solo driver was 9 years old. He was very proud to drive the sled himself with his mom and little brother in the basket.”

   She also noted, “We have had a number of engagements on the trail, That’s always fun! The guys usually make plans with me in advance and I take pictures of him asking. The girls have always said ‘yes.’” 

   You can contact Mountain Paws Dog Sled Tours at mountainpawsdogsledding.com or call (970) 819-5022.     

  For the family or larger group that may also be looking for a dog sledding experience, San Juan Sled Dogs welcomes you.

  Peter Bartels and his wife Morgan Buckingham, who Bartels said,“it’s all her fault” when asked how he and his wife got into the dog sledding business, run the organization. 

Bartels explained that his wife has been dog sledding for about 20 years and they have been running San Juan Sled Dogs for the past 11 years. “I think it’s wonderful, I love being with dogs. It’s challenging work for me, but it’s really her vocation, she is the driving force behind the company for sure,” he said. 

“We actually have two business partners that helped us start the company, Chris and Christina Bouchard. Then we have one part-time employee that helps out a little bit during the off season and while we are in the thick of dog sledding, we have three other employees that work with us. Our busy season is the week before Christmas all the way through spring break if the snow is still flying. We are usually pretty busy through the whole winter as long as there is still snow,” said Bartels

Most of the dogs That San Juan Sled Dogs use are rescue dogs according to Bartels. The company has 50 dogs. “Most of our dogs are Alaskan Malamutes but we do have a number of Alaskan Huskies, too. Huskies are smaller and faster than the Malamutes. We love the Malamutes because they have big personalities and they are super loving and even though they are slower, they are stronger. So, that means we can take out big groups, we can take out a big family of like 10 on a couple of different sleds,” Bartels added. “The great thing is we have all these working dogs who know the deal and so when we have puppies, they first start training with the dogs by running free out on a training run,” 

Once the puppies reach the age of three or four months, “we have these little harnesses and will leave a space open on the team to put the puppies in to run with the team and then we will let them loose again so they are not working too hard,” Bartels noted.

  When Bartels and Buckingham take clients out on a trip, they typically go about 3 or 4 miles. 

“Our first season, I was a little nervous because I hadn’t really done commercial dog sledding, I had done training with Morgan in Montana where we were doing long distance runs but that didn’t involve kids and older folks and everything, just seeing how happy all the people were just to be interacting with all the dogs. A lot of these people just really like hanging out with the dogs after the tour. With our dogs getting that much attention every day from all different kinds of people, I was surprised at how immediately rewarding that was,” Bartels said.

  San Juan Sled Dogs is an all-inclusive experience for everyone, Bartels explained. They do everything for the clients from taking pictures, transportation to and from town and handling large groups or families who just want to enjoy the dog sled ride and enjoy the dogs, too.

 You can contact San Juan Sled Dogs to book a trip by going to their website, sanjuansleddogs.com, contacting Peter via email at peter@sanjuansleddogs.com, or by calling (970) 507-0316.           

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