Dog Days of Winter come to Fraser
Grand County, CO Colorado
About a decade ago when I lived in Leadville, my good friend Fritz Howard, owner of Melanzana (an outdoor clothing factory), got a new puppy named Charlie.
Charlie was an Alaskan-Saluki mix. Salulkis were bred for speed in Africa for hunting in the open. Fritz’s friend who used to race sleds suggested that Fritz try skijoring with his dog. Fritz wasn’t familiar with the sport but he loved Nordic skiing. So that winter he put a harness on Charlie and his brother Silver (Bridget’s dog) and took them out for a spin.
“It was really cool,” he said. Later that winter he took Charlie and Silver to a race in Grand Lake.
“They went (flat out) that first day,” he said. “It was amazing.” The novice team came in first. The second day of the race the team fell apart.
“A quarter mile in Charlie stopped to poop and we fell back to fifth place. But I was hooked.”
Charlie’s retired now but Fritz’s passion for sled dogs has only grown. Today he and his friend Steph Dwyer own nine dogs between them and run the race circuit around the state.
They will be in Fraser this weekend for the Dog Days of Winter event at Grand Park with the Rocky Mountain Sled Dog Club. The weekend’s races will take place over two days in the meadow behind the rec center. There will be several different types of events – dog sled races with teams of four, six and eight and skijor races with teams on one and two.
Traveling at speeds of up to 20 mph, four-dog teams run four miles, six-dog teams run six miles and eight-dog teams run eight miles. Final results are based on a combined time from two heats, one on Saturday and one on Sunday in each class. So spectators should be able to catch a variety of races on either day.
More than 40 club members and a couple hundred dogs will turn out for the event. Spectators are encouraged to come meet the dogs, talk to the owners, participate in a free skijoring clinic and cheer on the dogs and their owners. A fire pit will be on site to keep spectators warm and club merchandise will be available for sale.
The first thing many first-time spectators will notice, Fritz said, is the variety of dog breeds participating in the event. Although there will be some pure bred fluffy huskies, most of the dogs will not be “your traditional Disney movie Siberians.”
The reason for this, Fritz said, is that the fastest dogs are a mixed breed – usually some combination of bird dog, Dalmatian, greyhound and Alaskan husky. Most will have short hair coats and spots. These dogs are bred for athleticism and the short hair helps keep them from overheating.
Fluffy Siberian huskies and malamutes are bred more for long distance races where they have to sleep outside overnight. Sprint dogs sleep in insulated dog houses that keep them warm at night.
Two-dog skijoring is Fritz’s favorite event: “It’s not like waterskiing behind a dog. You work with the dog. The pulling helps you go just a little bit faster. With two dogs, you get more pull and go faster.”
His friend Steph races on the sled. “We combine our dogs and make a decent sled team. It’s a little more competitive and it’s fun for her to race against big boys on the sled.”
This is the first sanctioned race for the club this season. Top finishers at the end of the season will go on to compete for state trophy for Colorado. Metals are also given on the national scene. Steph won a bronze metal in the last World Championship four-dog team event in Quebec three years ago, qualifying her for this year’s World Championship in Norway.
While Steph and Fritz aren’t making the trek to Norway, Scott Aimone who will also be here this weekend is planning to participate in World Championship event in March in the pulk and skijoring classes.
Another World Champion contender Katie Harris, who also runs a four-dog team, should be here this weekend.
Grand County’s own Brad MulQueen from Hot Sulphur (owner of Carlos and Maria’s) will also be racing in the weekend’s event. So there should be plenty of folks to cheer along.
If you have an athletic dog that likes to run and pull and if you can Nordic ski, skijoring could be a fun sport to try. Fritz and Steph will be hosting a free skijor clinic at the race site at 2 p.m. Saturday. They will discuss techniques and equipment as a group and then have some on-the-snow practice with the dogs. Show up with your dog and your Nordic skis, and the club members will provide loaner skijoring equipment (harness, belt and line). The clinic is free. Donations will be accepted. Call Steph at 719-486-3522 for more information.
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