Ididaride: The Alaskan Sled Dog Experience

Lisa Fritscher June 9, 2011 No Comments


When Dad and I took an Alaskan cruise two years ago, I had a bucket list of things to accomplish, from eating crab to seeing glaciers. But the one that I was most excited about was dog sledding. I love animals, and I love new forms of transportation.

Dog Sledding Alaska

Summer or winter dog sledding is exhilarating!

Despite the rumors, however, most of Alaska is not in fact covered in snow and ice year-round. We cruised in mid-June and the temperatures were in the upper 50s and lower 60s. Not exactly the kind of weather in which you can just take the old dog sled for a spin! There were a few companies that offered a package deal: flightseeing with a glacier landing, and then a dog sled ride on the glacier. We were on a last-minute trip that left no opportunity to budget or plan, and the $400 plus per person charge took that option right off our list.

We decided to stay for awhile in Seward, the last stop on our cruise. Several days into our stay, while gathering informational brochures at the youth hostel, the heavens opened up and a light shone down. Summer dog sledding in a wheeled cart with pickup available in Seward, at a cost of only $69 per person! We called immediately to sign up.

About Ididaride

Sled Dogs Alaska

The dogs were so friendly

Ididaride Sled Dog Tours was the brainchild of 2004 Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey. Both sled dogs and mushers must maintain a rigorous training regime during the summer off-season. Rather than keeping the training regimen private, Seavey decided to invite Alaska tourists to share in the fun. All guides are in training for the race and all are highly knowledgeable about the dogs, the race and Alaska in general.

Our Experience

The Ididaride Guides Alaska

Tour guides are in training for the Iditarod

Ididaride offers the option to combine the two-hour sled ride with a full-day tour of Seward for an additional fee. While the tour sounded fun, we had already seen most of Seward. So we decided to take the sled ride only. We met Danny Seavey, Mitch’s son and an up and coming Iditarod racer in his own right, at the designated pickup spot near the railroad station. He was right on time and we were on our way.
During the short drive, Danny explained how the experience would work. The wheeled carts loaded with passengers weigh more than the Iditarod sleds. The warmer weather also means that the dogs must work harder. By training them with the carts, the drivers ensure that the dogs will not struggle along the race course. Ididaride has a two-mile course laid out as a scale model of the real Iditarod course, allowing us to experience the excitement of reaching each “town” along the way.

Meeting the Dogs

Scenic Alaska

This was the backdrop for our ride

Stepping out of the van, I was overwhelmed with excitement. A seemingly endless collection of dogs, all lean and healthy and ready to go, stretched out before us. We were greeted by two guides, a guy and a girl, both of whom were in training for their first race. They explained a bit about the Iditarod and pointed out various dogs, some of whom are past champions. Then we divided into groups for our ride.

Dog Sled Training Carts Ididaride

The vehicles are sort of like tiered golf carts

The carts are almost impossible to describe. They looked sort of like six-passenger golf carts with tiered seating. We were loaded first, and then our guide carefully selected the dog team. Dogs are chosen for each ride according to a number of factors–length of time since the dog’s last run, personality, ability to get along with the other dogs on that ride’s team, and desire to run at that time. I was thrilled, because one of our chosen dogs looked exactly like the dog I had as a child.

The Race Begins

Ididaride Dog Sled Cart Alaska

Our group, with Dad and me in the front row

Technically speaking, we were not in a race at all. Our cart was in front, with the other following us. But you certainly couldn’t tell it wasn’t a real race from the way the dogs performed! We took off at breakneck speed and never slowed until our break point halfway through the ride. Along the way, our guide did a wonderful job of simultaneously controlling the cart and narrating the experience. We were treated to stories of dog training and quite a few little-known facts about the Iditarod.

Break Time

We came to a stop in a breathtakingly scenic spot between the water and the forest, with mountains peeking out in the distance. The dogs rested while we got a more personal experience with our guide. He shared his dreams of running his first race and the challenges he faced. Apparently the race is quite expensive, and you don’t get sponsors until you’ve proven yourself. It can be a real challenge for hopeful young unknowns to finance the entry fee, sled, dog team and all the other expenses. The experience felt very real, and I wish him all the luck in the world!
When the dogs started straining at the harness, the message was clear: they were ready to get moving. So our guide hopped off the cart to take photos of us before heading back out on the course. The dogs are wise to him, and tried to take off without him just as he snapped the last picture! Thank goodness our guide knew how to board a moving cart!

After the Ride

Dog Sled Puppies

Cuddling the puppies was so much fun

After an exhilarating second half, we returned to the training facility. As we dismounted, we were invited to pet and play with the dogs from our team. Then it was time to meet the puppies. The dogs are bred each year and those that show the proper temperament, strength and endurance enter training when they are old enough. In the meantime, the Seaveys want them to get as much socialization as possible. That’s very important, because during the race, the dogs must contend with bystanders, race officials and the media. We held and cuddled the puppies for awhile before moving into the exhibition tent.

Ididaride Costume Demonstration Alaska

Doesn't that dog look rather GQ?

In the tent, our guide demonstrated the actual equipment used on the Iditarod, including a sled and gear. Both racers and dogs must wear warm winter coats and hoods to protect against the bitter snow and ice. A now-retired Iditarod champion was the doggie model, and you could just tell that he was amused by the demonstrations.

Ididaride Back

All too soon, it was time to leave. The rest of our group was going on the full-day Seward tour, so Mitch Seavey’s wife Janine offered to drive Dad and me back to Seward. She’s a wonderful person and very easy to talk to. It was terrific to have the chance to just sit back and chat. Janine told us all about their son Dallas’ WildRide Sled Dog Show in Anchorage. I’m not sure how it came up, but when we were talking about the whole experience, I mentioned that I loved the name Ididaride. Then Dad piped up that they should name the return trip to Seward–“How about Ididaride Back?” We all had a good laugh over that one!

Tips for Parents

I honestly can’t say enough good things about Ididaride. Whether or not you and your kids follow the Iditarod, who can pass up a chance to go dog sledding in Alaska? The Seaveys and their employees are wonderfully friendly and welcoming, and are terrific at drawing people of all ages into the experience. Unless your kids are afraid of dogs, I can’t think of a single reason to pass this one up.

avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

Tags: Travel Excursions

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