In their element: Dog mushers teach tourists
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of The Daily Times “In their element” series. On the last Thursday of every month in 2015, we published a profile of a Four Corners resident who embraces fitness or the outdoors. Read more stories at daily-times.com.
DURANGO, COLO. — About 25 years ago, Gregg Dubit got his first sled dog from an animal shelter. He harnessed the dog, a malamute and shepherd mix, to his skis and traveled around the mountains of southern Colorado.
"Definitely one of the best dogs I've ever owned," Dubit said of that first dog.
Soon, his wife, Gretchen, joined in on the skijoring — a winter sport in which a person on skis is pulled by dogs or horses — with another rescue. Over the years, the couple welcomed more and more dogs into their life, until they had enough for a dogsledding team. Eventually, they turned that love into a business. Now, they have been operating the Durango Dog Ranch for 20 years.
About three years ago, they started offering tours at Purgatory Resort outside Durango. The dog ranch also offers tours in La Plata Canyon near Hesperus and Molas Pass between Durango and Silverton.
The business includes 35 dogs, 24 of which belong to the Dubits. The other 11 belong to Abby Leatherman, a Michigan native who moved to Colorado to guide dogs for the business. Before she became a guide, she raced a dogsled team for about seven or eight years.
"That was a blast, but I realized I had to pay the bills, so I switched to touring," Leatherman said, explaining the switch from racing to guiding tourists.
She said she loves touring because it "combines my three favorite things: dogs, being outside and meeting new people, so I really couldn't ask for much better."
Leatherman said the dogs' excitement adds to her enjoyment.
"The dogs have so much energy and enthusiasm for every single ride, and it's really contagious," she said.
The Durango Dog Ranch employs six guides and leads out two sleds every hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. The first tour of the day on Tuesday was for a family of three from Arizona.
Siri Koppanati and Ven Danduprolu stopped by the dog ranch on Tuesday for "Introduction to Mushing" tour with their daughter, Ridhi Danduprolu. The couple said they wanted to go to the dog ranch because of their 5-year-old daughter's love for dogs.
The family signed a waiver and received basic lessons on how to drive the sled before they started out on the four-mile route near Purgatory. As they left the kennel Tuesday morning with the dog team, Ven Danduprolu stood on skis attached to the back of the sled and steered with the help of a guide. Meanwhile, his wife and daughter rode in the sled as the family headed up the Old Flume Trail. The route took them along a water pipeline that pulls water from Cascade Creek to a lake that runs a hydroelectric plant.
Before heading on the trail, the family met the dogs as the canines were harnessed to the sled.
The dogs each have their own personalities, Dubit said. He pointed to three siblings that are all outgoing leaders. But not all of the 23 dogs working at the ranch on Tuesday were as gregarious.
"Some dogs, like humans, you get introverts and you get extroverts," Dubit said. "The extroverts are real friendly and want to jump on you and want to lick you and the introverts want to be left alone and you've got to respect that."
Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.
A closer look: Five questions for Gregg Dubit
- What was the name of your first dog?
"Rhubarb. We had rhubarb in the garden, and he was digging it up all the time."
- Where is your favorite place to dogsled?
"Molas (Pass) is pretty much the most beautiful place on earth."
- How did you get interested in dogsledding?
"I read a lot of Jack London, so I'd always had this interest in dogsledding. Then I was able to get some dogs from the pound and train them to pull."
- What was the biggest surprise when you started a dogsledding business?
"There's a lot of moving parts, so I don't think it's a surprise, but it does take years to learn everything. There's a lot to learn to do a good job at it, and the dogs are good teachers, but anytime you're doing a business with animals there's, you know, sometimes things go perfectly and sometimes your team runs away."
- How old are the dogs you work with?
We've got a 14 year old at home that can no longer run — he's fully retired — and we've got an 11-year-old with a neck injury, so he's not working, but as long as they're enthusiastic, I'll go ahead and take them. We start them running alongside when they're six months old.
If you go
What: "Introduction to Mushing" on Old Flume Trail
When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily through Jan. 5, then 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays
Where: Purgatory Resort north of Durango, Colo., off of U.S. Highway 550
Register: Go to purgatoryresort.com/winter-activities/dog-sledding.
More info: Call 970-259-0694 or go to durangodogranch.com.