Dogsledding Adventures in Montana


Move over Alaska—Montana is Biting Back

By Bruce Northam

Hannah Vogel with one of her team of dogs in Montana.
Hannah Vogel with one of her team of dogs in Montana.

Kids don’t lie about what is and what is not entertaining. Although my daughter Bella can ski black diamonds, dogsledding in Alberta last winter provided her most vocal adrenaline rush. I filed this under “bullet-proof fun.”

Well, there’s a new star on the U.S. dogsledding scene, Montana’s Absaroka Dogsled Treks.

Owners Mat Stimpson and Hannah Vogel, both a dogsledding and romantic team, are taking this archetypal transport mode to a new level of enjoying the moment.

The couple bought an established 20-year-old outfitter four years ago and have been continuously rebuilding—the passed torch needed polishing—by expanding kennels, updating equipment, and adding an agility yard, exercise pens, and new dog houses.

A lot goes on behind the scenes of this time-honored sport, and only dedicated aficionados can pull it off. Hannah testified, “These dogs are our family.” Happy trails, redefined.

Chico Hot Springs

Based at the Chico Hot Springs Resort near the Northern entrance of Yellowstone National Park, their prime location invites a steady stream of myriad enthusiasts from every corner of the planet.

dogsleddingIt’s as simple as renting a car in Bozeman, MT, and enjoying the incredibly scenic hour-long drive into Absaroka’s slice of the great American West.

“We started with our personal team and watched how our friends were lit up by it.” Hannah explained, adding, “And you get to see some great countryside by way of this ancient connection between people and dogs.”

Most professional dogsledders train in remote areas, the reason why most of us know little about this sport and leisure activity. Absaroka Dogsled Treks showcases the owners’ passion, giving the public an insider’s view that includes puppy and dog adoptions, a musher’s school, and a bucket-list adventure that takes winter voyagers deep into Montana’s backcountry—where customers also pilot their own team of dogs.

Propelled by a powerful pack of sled dogs, riding through these canyon cuts and passes while taking in epic vista points in the typically unexplored, beautiful Absaroka Mountain range will forever burn fond Montana memories into your brain.

Teamwork, Montana style.
Teamwork, Montana style.

This compassionate outfitter mushes with Alaskan Huskies, which are a mixed breed husky, bred to be highly efficient sled dogs.

Chico Hot Springs is a legendary resort in Southwest Montana with huge heated pools and a top notch wine list, along with horseback riding and a spa.
Chico Hot Springs is a legendary resort in Southwest Montana with huge heated pools and a top notch wine list, along with horseback riding and a spa.

While they are technically “mutts,” they are not mutts by accident, and their breeding is usually very specific and has taken many many years to evolve into the Alaskan Huskies we see today.

Mat explained how they put together our teams of huskies from several sources.

“We raise some of our own, we take in some from other sled dog kennels (racing & recreational), and we sometimes take in the occasional pet husky that requires a more active lifestyle, and we also sometimes take in huskies from animal shelters.”

You can really tell that this guy loves his dogs, even before he added,

“Dog care is number one in our kennel; the dogs are the true athletes, and we are nothing without them”

Chico Hot Springs

After their sled dog rides, the ultimate option for guests is warming up in the on-site hot springs, followed by fine dining in Chico’s Dining Room. An after-dinner drink and dancing in the Chico Saloon might also be in order.

Absaroka Dogsled Trek's Hannah Vogel.
Absaroka Dogsled Trek’s Hannah Vogel.

The next day, consider taking things up a notch and enjoy a relaxing massage at the Chico Day Spa—which segues nicely into a romantic carriage ride via the Chico Horse Barn.

Sells-itself neighboring Yellowstone National Park aside, Chico Hot Springs Resort & Day Spa is a destination itself.

Chico Hot Springs Resort is nestled in Paradise Valley where there are endless trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Generations of Montana high schoolers have enjoyed a stay at Chico as a graduation ritual.

Enjoy riding out the dog days of winter. Go make your heart race. As Hannah shared, “It’s not a job, it’s a calling.” Life is good here because they made it that way.

PS, dogsledding is an ultra-camera-ready experience, your video footage will surely have legs.

Visit Absaroka Dogsled Treks and also check out this video. For a Montana winter vacation overview, go here.

More about the science of husky sled dogs by dog whisperer Mat Stimpson…

“Each of our huskies is constantly evaluated to be sure that they are happy, healthy, and thriving. Husky health is charted daily to ensure that nothing is missed. Our biggest mission is to be sure each of our huskies is not only healthy but ABSOLUTELY LOVES what they do.

The Absaroka team doing what they love in Montana.
The Absaroka team doing what they love in Montana.

That’s why we take in dogs from other kennels and also adopt dogs out to other mushers, skijorers,(a winter sport where a person on skis is pulled by a horse, a dog (or dogs) or a motor vehicle), and active recreational family homes.

Maybe a certain dog doesn’t like the high pressure of racing, but thoroughly enjoys running short tours and hanging out with people and kids all day.

High Powered Dogsledding

Other dogs are more high-powered and need to be on a race team, running faster and further to thrive. And some dogs have less of a working mentality, and only need to run a few miles recreationally to be happy, and thrive best in an active family setting. Dog ‘retirement’ is evaluated on an individual basis as well.

Some dogs physically age better and have such a hard-working mentality that they are not only quite happy to keep running well into their senior years (maybe just shorter runs, with lighter loads), but they would become depressed if we made them stop. Other doggies are happier to take it easy a little earlier in life, and prefer a more relaxed family home with more time spent indoors.”

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