Born to run in the Vail Valley
Vail, CO Colorado
WOLCOTT ” Sixty huskies howl in delight when they know it’s time to run in the Vail Valley, but when they hit the trail, the dogs go silent.
Immersed in Colorado’s rugged beauty near Wolcott, Mountain Musher offers tourists and locals alike a chance to explore the Vail Valley in a whole new way ” hooked up to a team of powerful huskies. The family run business provides guests a chance to see a part of the valley that time seemingly forgot.
“We just had a guy from England,” owner Wally Glass said. “He was blown away by not being able to see any houses or anything. The snow is untouched. It’s pristine.”
That’s because the two-hour tours run on the privately owned Lazy J Ranch. Guests are greeted by hundreds of acres of terrain ranging from open fields to thick trees. Spotting elk or other wildlife is almost common practice.
Oh, and there’s the dogs.
Mountain Musher takes five sleds out at a time, with 12 dogs hooked up to each one. The dog teams don’t go at a leisurely pace. The sleds head downhill toward the end of the tour where they can go as fast as 30 mph.
“Practically (all other dog sled companies) take you out to a flat field, and they just trot around it,” Glass said. “They don’t run because it’s flat. We go uphill for three miles. We gain 1,000 feet of vertical. When we come down, we run all the way down the mountain.”
The tour is so popular that half of Mountain Musher’s business comes from repeat visitors, Glass said.
Training the dogs
Husky puppies can be quite a handful, but the training regimen Glass employs is similar to the one you’d use for a normal dog. Only instead of “sit,” the huskies are learning “gee” (right), “haw” (left) and “hike” (run).
It’s important that each dog learns the commands because if one doesn’t follow orders, it throws the whole sled off. Some dogs learn rather quickly, while some can take a whole season. Glass takes the best of the bunch and makes them his lead dogs because they are natural leaders and can run the fastest.
When the dogs are the fully trained, they are Iditarod quality, Glass said. In the famous Alaskan dog sledding race, the huskies can travel up to 120 miles in one day. Glass has never pushed his dogs that hard, but he has gone 50 miles in a day.
“A lot of people call us up and ask, ‘What do you do to make these dogs go?'” Glass said “Basically, you let them go. It’s not a problem to make them go. It’s a problem to make them stop. They love to run.”
Any dog lover would feel right at home at Mountain Musher. Glass has been breeding and training dogs for more than 20 years. Currently, 100 dogs call Mountain Musher home, each given an unique name.
It isn’t hard for Glass to remember all their names because he spends time with the dogs everyday. He personally feeds the dogs to build a rapport with them. Getting to know each dog’s personality helps when giving them commands on the trail.
“They are just like kids in a family,” Glass said. “They are all different. It’s just like my kids, even though they have the same genes and the same upbringing, they all have their own personality. If a dog is loved and treated well, it’s natural personality will stay through life.”
The dogs clearly love Glass. In his 20 plus years training more than 1,000 huskies, he has never been bitten.
“We get all the dog lovers,” Glass said. “They are concerned because the dogs have to pull us. People that have gone on our tours that are dogs lovers. They can tell that the dogs are treated well. First, you can tell by the condition of the dog. Then we were are going down the trail, their tails are wagging.”
Sports Writer Ian Smith can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.