They are ruff. They are tough. They are Colorado sled dogs. And they run to have a good time. – Denver Post
BRECKENRIDGE – Six snowy miles down Tiger Road, seemingly closer to Keystone than Breckenridge, a cacophony of Siberian husky howls fills the air. At the foot of Mont Guyot, Good Times Adventures is a dog sledding and snowmobiling oasis in the middle of the forest.
If you hop on a snowmobile from the main building and head up the hill – right next to where the Good Times staff are boiling pots of food for their herds of huskies – you’ll find Tim Thiessen getting ready for another cold winter day as a sled guide dog. It was around 18 years ago when the Denver native “stumbled into a cool job and got hooked” at the age of 18.
Growing up in the city of Denver, Thiessen dreamed of living in the mountains while tending to the pooch rescues of her family from the pound, Sparky and Toby. These days, Thiessen’s Alaskan husky mix Bullet and Pyro are his lead dogs when the longtime sled guide competes in dog sledding competitions, like next month’s seven-leg 250-mile journey from Jackson, Wyoming to Idaho and back to Teton County, Wyoming. The race is officially the 25th Pedigree Stage Stop Race, possibly the biggest dogsled race in the lower 48s.
It’s not the iconic Alaskan Iditarod, but for Leadville resident Thiessen and the 14 dogs he’ll be bringing with him, it’s a race to experience.
Thiessen and his “kids” do just that in their secluded, off-grid home, which is a two-mile snowmobile ride from the nearest road.
“With the competitive side, I spend so many days with my kids and my best friends on the track,” Thiessen said. “And when I say ‘my children’, (I mean) my dogs. They are my best friends and I want to see them having fun. This is the main objective of their management.
Having raised Labs before embarking on the life of a sled dog, Thiessen said dogs love driving the sled as much as Labs love playing fetch. They live for it. Even if that means 17 of them are sleeping with Thiessen in his trailer, as they did between stages somewhere in the vastness of Wyoming last year, when they first took part in the Pedigree Stage Stop Race.
“It can be noisy. Sometimes they eat your pillow while you sleep,” Thiessen said with a laugh. “But each dog has its own box, its own area.
“When I push,” added Thiessen, “I help them. I am one of the dogs. I’m the alpha dog, but I’m one of them.
Over his years working as a dog sledding guide, Thiessen gradually grew to have his own pack. Then his close friend from Leadville and fellow musher, Austin Forney, encouraged him to take part in the Pedigree stage stop. This year, the championship purse is $165,000. A year after finishing 20th out of 25 mushers, Thiessen doesn’t expect to challenge for that purse. In an event like this, when you and your dogs are climbing hill after hill, battling blizzard after blizzard, or going through unexpected variables, like last year’s heat, simply completing the odyssey is a victory.
This year, Bullet and Pyro will push the team to be a bit faster. Thiessen said Bullet is an almost 80% German Shorthaired Pointer, a dog that Thiessen describes as a sprint racing dog that he pushes in terms of distance.
Bullet, like the rest of Thiessen’s dogs, has Alaskan husky blood. Thiessen said these qualities of a Siberian husky mixed with a hunting dog produce dogs that are less stubborn than Siberians. Due to their innate nature to please, it’s no problem for Thiessen to return home to Leadville after a day at Good Times and train them on area trails, such as around Turquoise Lake.
When training or racing at their best, Thiessen said dogs can move the sled at speeds of around 15 mph. For a trip like the Pedigree, anything over 18 mph is too fast. Dogs will not have the stamina. Monitoring his speed with a GPS — one of the main tools he can have with him in the sled, including a hatchet, sleeping bag, first aid kit and two extra dogs — Thiessen balances care for his dogs while letting them fulfill their biological desire to run and run and run again.
Once in Wyoming, Thiessen hopes his training regimen of running mountainous hills above 10,000 feet will help him in the race. With many mushers and their dogs coming from low-altitude regions, such as the Yukon, Thiessen said he believes his dogs benefit from running at altitude.
All that training aside, after last year’s race — which dragged through mud and dirt at times — Thiessen is ready to serve as the “alpha dog” at the starting line on Jan. 31 in Jackson Hole.
When he gets there, will the alpha dog have butterflies?
“Oh yeah,” he said.
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