Home of Champions
By Morgan Smith
If the state of Alaska’s sport is mushing, then there is no better look behind the scenes of such a unique and exciting sport than going on a tour of the home of over 30 sled dogs. With the help of the Girdwood Mushing Company and veteran Iditarod musher Nicolas Petit, you can learn about the sport, have the sled dogs take you for a ride, and pet them and their puppies.
Created in the summer of 2015, this summer sled dog adventure has so much to offer. Lead by Petit, this tour takes you through multiple aspects of this great race. From learning about dog breeding and lineage of the resident dogs, to how to harness dogs properly, prepare them for mushing and so much more.
The tour begins at Alyeska resort, and you take a 8-mile drive in one of two open air Pinzgauers, a six-gear, six-wheel drive high-mobility all-terrain vehicle. During the drive up your tour guide fills you in on local facts including the history of the town and the marvels all around you over the speaker system.
Peter Reuter, our tour guide, finished the Iditarod in 2017. He was filled with jokes and had lots of knowledge pertaining to the environment around us thanks to his degree in forestry. Reuter’s first-hand experiences with mushing made it so any questions we had, he seamlessly answered, leaving us feeling informed.
Mushing and forest facts asked and answered, we kept our eyes out for local wildlife that might intercept us on the road and enjoyed the ride in our extraordinary vehicle as it wound up Crow Creek Road, paralleling the original Iditarod Trail. Getting to be immersed in all that rich history was truly a sight, which makes every minute of the ride up exhilarating.
Pulling onto an active mining company’s property where the tour is located, you get a sense of what it feels like on a mining claim. With equipment scattered all throughout the trees, you can start to understand the gravity of what they do and how much goes into it. And as the Pinzgauers wove through the narrow, dirt road, it starts to open up and you get your first glimpse of the housing area for the dogs.
You pull up and park right next to the dog lot, and as you get unloaded from the Pinzgauers, you can start to feel excitement. Petit comes over and greets all of the guests and explains how the tour will work. Then he introduces all of his dogs, explains their lineage and names. And as he wraps up his talk, you get to follow him through the yard and pet the dogs. They were so sweet. Each dog just wanting as much attention as they could get, yapping at you for more if you stopped giving them affection. I couldn’t help but stop, and smiled as I watched the kids adoringly interact with each dog.
Just when it seemed like the tour couldn’t get any better, Petit takes you over to the puppy pen and doles out puppies to guests. Everybody’s face expressed the same thing – pure joy. Not being very old, the puppies nestled into you and seemed to soak up the affection as much as the guest. When the time was up, everyone reluctantly returned the puppies before moving on to the tour’s next part.
Harnessing dog seems simple, and it’s not overly complicated, yet the process gets lively with the energy radiated by the excited dogs. Petit explains how it’s done and gives each guest a whack at trying to harness their own dog with his help. Hands immediately popped up as the kids volunteered, eager to get involved. Fourteen dogs later, the ride of our lives began.
The custom built dog cart was not only a comfy and safe ride, but it seemed to deliver a thrilling ride letting you see a little into the real feel of mushing. One of the guests even exclaimed that it was like riding a roller coaster and seemed to have a hard time containing her screams of joy as the dogs pulled us around the trails on the property. I’m not sure who had more fun, the guest or the dogs.
On the tour’s last stop, Petit takes the guests to a building with his accumulated accolades on display. He walks you through what it’s like on the trail while racing and various mushing experiences he has had. From winning special gear for being first to arrive at checkpoints, to just making it work day to day, to surviving with the dogs during harsh trail conditions, you can’t help but relive his tales with him.
As he wraps up recapping his amazing career, you can’t help but hear more puppy yipping in the background. As you exit the building, you see another puppy pen. This one labeled with a cute sign saying, Puppy Petting Pen at Petit’s Pavilion. While half the guest were loading up on merchandise with Team Petit and paw prints on it, the other half was getting their fill of puppy snuggles.
When the soft puppy fur and tiny tongue licks finished, we loaded back up in the Pinzgauers. The ride down was as delightful as the ride up, but this time Reuter took us through the New Girdwood Townsite and showed the guests the one of the commercial districts. It was a nice addition to an already perfect day.
Thank you to Nic Petit, Peter Reuter, and Tyler Schmitt for opening your world up to us. It was truly an unforgettable day. Check for tour dates on Facebook and alyeskatours.com.
Girdwood Mushing Company