Several years ago, I had the good fortune to watch the ceremonial start of the Iditarod in person in Anchorage. What an amazing sight to witness, with all of the dogs so excited to get running. So when we decided to take a family trip to Seward, home of the Seavey family of sled dog racing fame, I was thrilled to find out that our kids could get a chance to experience dog sledding in person, even in the summer, at Ididaride Sled Dog Tours.
Ididaride offers several tour options, in Seward and also in Girdwood and Anchorage. The Seward choices are a one and a half hour tour of the kennel facilities and wheeled dog sled ride, or the “Real Alaska Tour,” which adds in a tour of Seward and Exit Glacier and lunch at the Resurrection Roadhouse. Since our kids are 3 and 5, we opted for the shorter tour to match their attention spans.
Upon checking in, we met Stefanie, who was our musher and guide for the day. It was quite inspiring that our musher was young and female in a sport that we had previously thought to be male-dominated. My daughter also thought it was “really cool, Mom.” Stefanie first gave us a quick history lesson about the origins of the Iditarod race (did you know that it was created to honor dog teams who carried vital serum to Nome during an outbreak of diphtheria?) and showed us a map of the route. Then it was on to the kennel, which is outdoors, to learn more about the dogs and climb aboard the “sled,” which seats six and is equipped with hydraulic brakes since the dogs are so strong. My favorite part of the whole tour was watching the dogs jump and bark while the handlers were choosing which dogs to harness up to the sled. It was like watching kids waiting to get chosen for a team at recess. “Pick me, pick me!”
Then, we were off and running. The ride follows a trail through the forest, and every few minutes the musher stops the team to tell more about dog sledding and racing. We were fascinated to learn that while it seemed that the handlers were harnessing dogs up randomly, they were actually matching them up very specifically based on personality. There were 85 dogs at the kennel, and the handlers knew most all of them! Another reason for the frequent stops is that the dogs are used to racing at temperatures well below zero. For them, running on the 55-degree day was like a 95-degree day for humans, plus they were pulling along about a thousand pounds.
The kids both agreed that the ride itself was the best part of the tour. My daughter whispered in awe to me the whole way, and my son loved watching the dogs get excited to run again after each break.
After returning to the kennel, we got to meet each of the dogs on our team before heading around back to meet some 9-week-old puppies. Everyone got to hold and play with a puppy or two. They were relatively calm as far as puppies go, and there was even a contest going on to name the litter.
The final stop of the tour was a covered outdoor stage where we watched a short film about the Iditarod and then enjoyed a demonstration by Stefanie and Robin, a retired sled dog. Stefanie dressed Robin up in all the gear he would have worn along the race course, and then showed us the gear that a musher would wear to keep warm in -50o degree temperatures. We also got to hop in an Iditarod sled, which the Seaveys constructed out of hockey sticks for maximum flexibility!
On the way out, we picked up a book about sled dogs for the kids and some treats for our dog in the gift shop. There was a great selection of books for all ages, as well as clothing items. They also have a display case bearing some pretty impressive trophies that their team has won.
Our whole family left with a much greater appreciation for both sled dogs and mushers. We hope to make it up to Anchorage in March to let the kids experience the excitement of the start of the Iditarod, and we’ll now know which team to cheer for!
This review is based on a complimentary tour at the Ididaride Sled Dog Tours. I received no other compensation besides the tour and the company did not state any requirements that I express a particular point of view.