Dogsledding Near Stowe, Vermont

Posted on Sept. 22, 2022

Experience one of the oldest forms of travel on a dogsled tour.

Scenic view at sunrise in Stowe, VT
It’s early evening when the dogs start to bark. Lined up near the Stoweflake Inn and Resort, the Alaskan Huskies are waiting, pulling at their harnesses and ready to fly across the open snow with their passengers in tow. “We like to do night tours so that people who are skiing all day at Stowe can experience dog sledding too,” says Emma Brownlee of Umiak the outdoor adventure company that organizes dog sledding and other tours around Stowe, such as snowshoeing.

During these short, introductory tours, guests get a chance to get to know the dogs as they are harnessed up, 8 or 10 dogs to a sled. The musher and up to two guests (depending on weight) then board the sled and they take off into the darkness for a 20-minute jaunt across the snow-covered golf course. The tours usually start the day after Christmas, says Brownlee. “We go every 20 minutes from about 4:40 pm to until around 8 pm. It’s a great introduction to dog sledding,” she says. Umiak also offers longer tours just south of Stowe in the Waterbury/Fayston area.

Dogs Bred to Run

If you see an Alaskan Malamute or Siberian Husky, know that these dogs were bred to pull sleds. Dog sledding was an essential form of travel across the frozen tundra in Alaska and Siberia. The Mahlemiut people of Alaska bred dogs to be strong enough to carry heavy loads. In Siberia, the smaller Huskies pulled sleds and would herd reindeer and other animals.

“The Siberian Husky is one of the oldest working breeds of dogs we know about,” says Rob Farley, who runs October Siberians, another dogsledding operation that does tours out of Little River State Park, in Waterbury, just 10 miles south of Stowe. “Their DNA has been traced back more than 6,000 years and some say 12,000 years.”

Farley, like many of Vermont’s mushers, got into the sport because of his first Husky, Thyme. “I had one Husky, then I got another,” he says. He now has 18. Farley has been training and breeding sled dogs since 1994 and mushing on weekends, when he’s not at his job at the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. He’s raced sled dogs and traveled over much of the state behind his teams.

In 2005, Farley started taking guests on tours. Today, his October Siberians tours start just south of Stowe at Little River State campground. “I like to go out as soon as there’s enough snow so I can get a stake in the ground,” he says. The stake serves as an anchor holding the dogs who were bred to run still until the sled is ready to take off. “Without it, they’d be chasing every squirrel in sight,” Farley says with a laugh.

Guests get a chance to help harness the dogs and then take off on a short loop around the campground. “We use a tandem sled,” says Farley. “That means that there’s space for two ‘drivers’ or mushers and one passenger (depending on weight) and guests can actually get a feel for what it is like to drive the team,” he says. Farley teaches guests how to use commands such as “gee” (go right) and “haw” to get the dogs to turn left. After a few loops around the campground, and a view of the Waterbury Reservoir, the sled and team head out to the trails of Little River State Park. The tours take, on average, about two hours. When the snow is low, Farley will sometimes take his team to the snow-covered road that runs between Stowe and Smugglers’ Notch. And in the fall and off-season, he keeps the dogs trained behind a cart and will occasionally offer guests rides on that, too.

Full-Immersion Dog Sled Tours

If you’re looking for a full-immersion experience in dog sledding, head about 25 miles north of Stowe to the small town of Eden Mills and visit Jim Blair, owner of Eden Ethical Dog Sledding. Over the last two decades, Blair has carved a trail system on his 140-acre property where he keeps more than 30 Alaskan Huskies. Blair calls his property a “sanctuary,” and here his dogs, which he nicknamed The Un-Chained Gang, roam free.

Blair was a competitive cross-country ski racer who started skijoring (skiing with a dog pulling you) and ended up winning the national championships three years in a row. After getting into sled dog racing, he became a champion in sprint racing in the 8-mile and open class (11-mile and 18-mile divisions). He’s mainly retired now but enjoys teaching his guests about his dogs and the sport.

For the Premium Alpha tour, guests spend an hour meeting the dogs, learning about the sport of dog sledding, the roles each dog plays on the team, their care and breeding and how the dogs are humanely cared for. On the second part of the two-hour tour, the dogs get hitched up to a sled and race across Blair’s trail with big views and many chances to stop and take photos. At the end of the ride, there’s even an opportunity to drive the sled, and, of course, feed the dogs a treat or two.

For those who still want more, Blair has three cabins and offers a “Sled and Stay Package” at one of three rental cottages on the property as well as lessons on mushing and sled dog racing. If there’s no snow, don’t worry: Blair will just hitch up the team to a high-performance cart, or sled on wheels, that he uses for training. 

Produced in partnership with Vermont Ski + Ride Magazine.