Dog sled adventures set pace at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort

There's nothing quite like the greeting that guests receive when they enter the Alaskan Husky Kennel at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Fayette County.

Yip, yap, yelp. It's quite an a cappella serenade.

The 25 sled dogs, each tethered to a wooden house, can barely contain themselves.

It appears to be their way of telling their handlers to "Pick me! Pick me! I want to go for a run."

While I settled into the 6-foot-long white ash and aluminum MaineMade sled on a recent Friday morning, wildlife supervisor Melody Varney, 27, of McClellandtown, helped to put the harnesses on eight happy huskies.

Hobbs and Bandit shared the front. Behind them were Kinky and Saint, Dillan and Scooby and Vinny and Hemi.

It was a near-zero day in the Laurel Highlands -- sunshine, blue sky and fresh snow. Several inches of light, fluffy Pennsylvania powder had fallen overnight. It delighted the skiers, snowboarders and snow tubers that day at the resort's nearby Mystic Mountain.

My musher, Kiley Turner, 25, of Bullskin, wrapped a red scarf around her nose and mouth, gave the start command and we were off for a 30-minute, 2-mile ride -- along, on and across The Links golf course.

We barreled out of the chain-link back gate of the kennel, made a quick right turn and started up a steep hill. Would we make it? I was under the 275-pound weight limit for sled passengers. No worries. We had 32-leg drive.

Ms. Turner shouted commands to the team: "Ready, hike!" (go), "Ha!" (go left), "Gee!" (go right) and "Whoa!" (stop). I responded to "Lean right!" and "Lean left!" on turns and "Hang on!" when the sled bounced around.

We took a few breaks to relish the scenery -- take a camera but keep it covered -- and to give the dogs a breather. Vinny used the breaks to nose into the knee-deep snow beside the trail and lap up some of the crystals.

Dog sled riders pass by -- at a discreet distance -- the Nemacolin Golf Academy and the 42-room Falling Rock Hotel.

This is the eighth winter Nemacolin has offered dog sled rides. It breeds and raises most of its huskies. Guests are welcome to pet the dogs.

After one break, the dogs had the opportunity to stretch their legs on a 100-yard straightaway and made the most of it. Snow flew everywhere. When we returned to the kennel, my chest, lap, legs and boots looked as though I had been sanding drywall seams for hours.

A heavy blanket, carefully folded to keep it inside the sled, would help to keep guests warm. A free map of the trail with color photos of some of the landmarks and a history of the dog sled program would be a welcome take-home souvenir.

Karen Brindle, 31, of Markleysburg, the recreation office coordinator, oversees the dog sled program from an office in the Equestrian Center. She and her co-workers are part of the resort's Wildlife Academy.

Her advice to dog sled riders:

"Dress for the weather and dress in layers."

Riders also should wear warm boots and gloves, a neck gaiter, a hat that completely covers the ears and, when necessary, a face mask, especially when Arctic temperatures descend on Western Pennsylvania. Hand and foot warmers are a plus.

Ms. Brindle recalled a young woman who arrived wearing jeans, a sweatshirt and tennis shoes.

"I dress warmer than that just to go to the grocery store," Ms. Turner quipped.

The staff rounded up enough warm attire for the clothing-challenged guest to enjoy her ride.

Dog sled rides are offered year-round, but the spring-summer-fall sled looks like a dune buggy. It has four black knobby tires and two black sling seats, one behind the other. The musher stands on a metal platform behind the second guest, steers with a handlebar and operates handbrakes similar to those on a bicycle.

The dogs' gangline is attached to the front of what is called the "Jamaican Dog Sled." When they get the start command, they dig in and away they go.

Information: Nemacolin Woodlands, 1001 Lafayette Drive, Farmington, PA 15437;; 724-329-6961. Dog sled rides are $150 and are scheduled at 8:30 and 10 a.m. and 1:30 and 3 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays through Sundays. Reservations are required. Dog sled rides are booked on weekends into March.

Lawrence Walsh writes about recreational snow sports for the Post-Gazette.

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