Steamboat Springs "Dogs are not pushed to run. They all want to go. And all someone has to do is go to any starting line to see that for themselves. These dog live to run. They enjoy running the way a golden retriever loves to retrieve," veterinarian Del Carter was quoted as saying in a story written by Alaskan journalist Bill Sherwonit about the 1986 Iditarod, the greatest dog sled race in the world.
After seeing Carol Bloodworth's nine Alaskan Huskies yank on the tow line, yearning to take her sled for a trip into the forest, Carter's comments proved to be every bit of the truth.
"Good dogs!" Bloodworth yells out and the dogs react with a unified forward pull while Bloodworth slowly lets off the sled's brakes.
"Ready go," she says and the dogs happily pull the sled, at a startling speed, up a small hill, following a trail leading into an aspen stand. The sled moves up and down hills in a nearly silent velocity, only the sounds of 36 paws pouncing on the snow, the sled's runners sliding along the trail and wind rushing past your ears can be heard.
"This is what we call 'traveling at the speed of dog,'" Bloodworth said.
And there is something special about that speed, which is around 12 mph and 20 to 25 mph down hills that widens the eyes and curls the lips.
"For the most part, it is just a peaceful experience," sled guide Tom Thurston said.
Thurston guides for Red Runner Dog Sled Tours, owned by Bloodworth. The company runs tours on private land, a couple of miles from Steamboat on Twentymile Road.
Bloodworth first got into the sport in the mid-'80s through the first person to bring sled dog tours to Steamboat, Jed Ulsamer.
Bloodworth had an Alaskan Husky that she wanted to train to be a sled dog and Ulsamer said he'd help. Though her dog didn't take to the sport, Bloodworth did, and she began accumulating other sled dogs, in particular Alaskan Red Huskies. In 1989, she opened Red Runner Dog Sled Tours, after Ulsamer left the business, and is one of two dog sled companies in the valley.
"I just love working with the dogs," she said.
Though Bloodworth only has Huskies for her team, many breeds will work and not all have to be northern breeds. German shepherds, Dalmatians, Dobermans and collies have all pulled sleds.
Dog sled enthusiasts can participate in numerous races in Colorado, and Bloodworth tries to make as many as she can.
Sprint racing is the biggest deal. A circuit runs through Granby, Kremmling and Grand Lake in February. In January was the WyColo mid-distance race, near the Colorado/Wyoming border north of Walden, which is usually around 20 to 30 miles and lasts for two days. Glenwood Springs also holds a couple of mid-distance races.
One of the last races of the year in Colorado is being held in Leadville this weekend.
As far as the Iditarod goes, which is a 1,200-mile race in Alaska, Bloodworth said that might be a little too grueling for her. But Thurston, who is in his second season of guiding, said he's not ruling it out.
"I'll set it as a goal," he said with a laugh. "But I don't know if I'd ever be able to reach it."