We begin our journey at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood. The sun is shining, we just sighted a black bear while parking, and the flowers are blooming. What more could you ask for? Then I rounded the side of the resort and saw what we were riding in. A Pinzgauer. This Austrian made open air vehicle was mostly used for medical transport during the Cold War. Girdwood Mushing Company Summer Sled Dog Adventure by Alyeska Tours has two of these rare trucks, a 1972 and a 1979. Equipped with antlers, 6 wheel drive, and army green paint this truck is as much fun to ride in as it looks.
The drive takes about twenty minutes and is filled with knowledgeable local information and several stops to take in special sights. Our driver Tyler Schmitt even drove us back by the black bear in the parking lot to get a second glimpse with the other members of our tour group. The Pinzgauer is equipped with a speaker system so all of Tyler’s local facts are easily audible and its six wheel drive capabilities handled Crow Creek Pass road with ease. Its open air sides help you take in the view while being safely buckled in. It’s a once in a lifetime ride.
We pulled off Crow Creek Pass road and entered a gravel road. This is where the dog kennel is located. We also learned that the property is used for gold mining and had been for over a century. In fact, the current miners are excavating a sluice box that was left behind by a previous miner from the early twentieth century. The history of the property comes to life around you as you pass mining equipment dispersed throughout the property.
We pull up to the dog kennel. Our other tour guide, Travis, hopped out and started getting the dogs ready for visitors as Nicolas Petit walked towards us. Immediately engaging all of his guests, Nic made everyone feel at home while starting to discuss the dogs and all that mushing entails. His passion for the sport and more importantly his love for his dogs shines through in his conversation. Engaging everyone even kids, Nic, Tyler and Travis help everyone take a turn harnessing dogs after we got our fill of petting them. Nothing beats walking around and getting snugs and licks from all of the beautiful dogs. Nic also took the time to answer any and all questions about his dogs. There were more than a few. Once we finished helping harness the team they were ready to run.
The cart we were going to ride in seats two rows of people, while Nic rides on the back standing. That way he was able to direct the team and brake when necessary. One lucky kid, if they are able to hold on, gets to ride standing next to Nic. The ride was a moment you’ll never forget. When the dogs take off you feel their power, their joyous yips fill the air, and it’s breathtaking. The ride last for about ten minutes while you cruse around the property. The surrounding mountainous landscape captivates any spare moment you might have. Once everyone gets a ride, you head down to the puppy pen.
As unforgettable as this experience has been so far, nothing beats petting puppies. First Nic takes you into a room filled with mementos from his time as a musher. From old news paper clippings to signed bibs, this rooms gives you a real look at the behind the scenes of mushing. He tells stories about his career as a musher, including placing third in the Iditarod in 2017. Then he shows you his extensive collection of awards and trophies, which are a sight to see. Nic also gives everyone a dog bootie worn by his dogs during a race. They literally have a worn paw print on them. Such a special souvenir. Once he’s finished, the petting begins. There were four puppies when we visited. Their fur was soft and nothing beats snuggling a future superstar athlete. It’s hard not to imagine what wondrous things they will behold. Their cute faces and potbellies were hard to put down as our adventure winded down. Before you leave, Tyler takes pictures of all of the guest with Nic and his puppies, including momma dog. If that’s not enough, you can even buy a Team Petit t-shirt, hoodie or hat.
On our truck ride down, Tyler takes the truck through the town of Girdwood to point out a few key places you may want to stop at, from restaurants and shopping to things in nature you might not want to miss out on. Girdwood Mushing Company Summer Sled Dog Adventure by Alyeska Tours had something for everybody.
I took many things away from my Sled Dog Adventure, but I believe the most important thing was a deepened respect for dog mushing. Not just how hard the mushers work, but their team of help. Their love for their animals and the sport of mushing is intoxicating. I’ll never forget the little things Nic said. Like how he stops the dogs downhill facing forward so if they go to the bathroom, it goes downhill away from the Sled. I know as I watch him race this next year I will be watching for these little details that make it all work. Like when Nic yells “Yep yep yep” when his teams heads in the correct direction. These sounds and memories will forever bring a smile to my face. I will never forget them. Neither will you.
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Written By Morgan Ragozzino