Eden Dog Sledding (Eden, VT)

I have been waiting to share this story last, as it was the most adventurous and will forever be one of my favorite vacation memories.

While staying in Stowe, Vermont last month for our annual family ski trip, I read an advertisement in one of the local magazines advertising Eden Dog Sledding and fell in love with the idea. Our own dog, Penny, back at home would undoubtedly have loved to join us in Vermont, as she’s proved over and over how much she adores climbing the highest piles of snow and leaping through snow banks in Van Vorst Park. It was the perfect vacation activity for a dog-lover, but it seemed too far-fetched and potentially cruel for a recovering vegetarian and her animal-loving partner to embark upon frivolously.

However, to my surprise, when I got back to the house that night, Rory was clutching an Eden Dog Sledding pamphlet in his gloved hand and asking if I was interested in trying it out sometime during the week. The brochure is in grey and black, featuring dogs straining at their harnesses with wild looks of pure abandon, tongues flailing, wide smiles keeping apace with the sled which is trailing behind in a background of snow flying high in the air. The dogs looked ridiculously happy to be running, and the pamphlet and website both talked about how well the dogs are cared for “off-chain”, indeed they are The Unchained Gang.

Rory browsed their site on his iPhone and we concluded we should find out more information. The next morning, while the guys suited up to hit the mountain, I gave a call to Eden Dog Sledding to find out more about availability and what we could expect. Jim sounded so friendly and seemed to care a lot about the experience the dogs offer to his guests. I scheduled an appointment for the next day. The guys had been skiing for three days straight, and it was a good day for Rory to take a break from backwoods moguls.

From speaking with Jim I got a very good feeling he treats the dogs with special care while meeting their needs to race and do what they were bred to do. Having a dog that comes to life when she meets certain environments, we understand how much joy this probably creates for the dogs. Naturally, Rory and I were happy to be supporting a caring organization, especially after hearing about the egregious dog sledding business incident in Canada.

And, so, off we went!

The drive from Stowe to Eden was scenic. The directions were easy, made even easier because Rory had passed the site on his way up to Jay Peak Resort. So, following directions we got on the phone, we parked and followed the signs to the entrance of the sledding barn.

The grounds were quiet, only a few barking, wagging doggies outside where jumping up to see who we were.

Despite there being a local media TV crew filming on the premises that morning, we were treated with loving care, welcome, and respect. Jim had asked our permission beforehand, letting us know we might end up on local TV (or possibly quoted).

I followed Rory out of the truck and into the house-barn, and initially the change of light was hard on my eyes from the bright snow into a room lit by a warm fire. At first glance I thought I saw maybe two or three dogs and I thought, “Aw this is so cute, they have a couple of dogs in the office with them here for us to meet.”

I had miscalculated.

As my irises adjusted, I started to see movement and fur: a few couches, a love-seat here or there that seemed relaxed and breathing slowly somehow, a television screen blocked by two pairs of ears across the room, counter tops with fluffy paws resting on them… and finally I took in that there were about eighteen warm, fuzzy bodies laying around on comfortable couches, sofas, loveseats, or just the floor next to the fireplace. My heart leaped into my chest. THIS is what we’d come for! I could have hung out in that room all day and come back the next day for more.

Picture it: Dog torsos heaving in happy slumber, snoring and blinking doggy faces, the brush of a tail as a dog trots by on his way to lay on top of the pile of other dogs resting on the couch… it was heaven.

We shook hands with the staff, I recognized Jim’s kind voice and matched his friendly features to his warm tone. He is the kind of man you see with a glint in his eye, and immediately have to wonder how life has allowed such sustained happiness in one person. We could already feel the reason why. Soft, wet noses curiously greeted us and tails wagged all around. We were offered hot coffee or cocoa with local Vermont cheese and crackers, and invited to relax and get to know the dogs a little bit before we headed out.

There were a handful of dogs outside fenced into an attached yard, but they had big dog houses with blankets and a ramp to a balcony upstairs where they could also hang out. It was obvious we had walked into the home where they spend a large amount of time. Their tails were wagging, not a chain in sight… just dogs running and playing, relaxing, socializing, and greeting newcomers as they came. I had the odd morally-satisfied sensation one gets when ordering Free Range chicken with the night’s entree, only nobody was being eaten. We could relax any thoughts about dogs being mistreated. These dogs are happy pets with what they consider to be the best job in the world: RUNNING!

After a few minutes of meeting variously-interested dogs, it was obvious we were being introduced to the alpha female and male, who took it upon themselves to do their instinctual canine duty (one right after the other) of checking us perhaps for smuggled goods or just to grant their approval to the pack that we were friends. I’m pretty sure that every human visitor passes that test with this crowd.

Names were shared by pointing: the Lion brothers Mufasa and Aslan, Grettel and her identically-matched brother, Stormina who had welped many in the pack, countless sets of eyes and ears (each litter named for funny themes like “carbohydrates”, greek myths, and inside jokes). Pancake and Waffle were from the Carbohydrate Litter. Leonard was the spotty one grabbing the toys and lobbing himself over the tops of the couches. We were told, “they rotate in and outside, depending on whose going out for a run next.” We were inundated with lazy pleas for head pets and back scratches, most from polite and friendly distances, and found ourselves wondering how these piles of sleepy fur laying by the fire would soon carry us, a sled, and driver Andy over the drifted snow banks outside.

The dogs were lounging in giant packs of tightly woven fuzz piles until the moment they heard the first jingle of a harness. Suddenly a rise of mournful howls drifted in from outside and Jim explained the dogs outside were calling out to say they wanted to come along! I couldn’t believe they were so tuned into the sound! All of the dogs inside began stirring a little, still relaxed and slowly wagging their tails until Andy taught us how to slip the harnesses on. Once in the harness, their hearts began to race with excitement and they got a certain look in their eyes…

Let’s go! Let’s go! Are we going?

One by one they waited at the door to be called out by name, then we learned how to hitch them to the sled lines and we took off!

The experience was thrilling, interesting and fun. We went into the wooded acreage around the facility and a little deeper into the woods where we saw very recent moose tracks and had a taste of the way the dogs loved to run on new trails. Thanks to all of the snow on the East Coast this year, the pack was able to run through trails they don’t usually run and they were so happy about it– you could tell how happy they were to go one direction or another because when they changed in a direction they loved, our sled literally flew around the corner!

We were very impressed that Andy didn’t yell his commands, but merely called out slightly above his speaking voice. Because the dogs are so into their job, they listen intently to his commands and perform the turns seamlessly. All of the responsibility for that goes on the front two dogs and they did an amazing job.

We got the biggest kick out of the way the dogs never wanted to stop and take a break. Andy would have them stop and take a breather every once in a while, but some of them were still pulling on the ropes, like “LET’S GO ALREADY.” Leonard was our favorite, because he would take one bite of snow and that was his idea of enough of a break.

Afterward, we fed the dogs a warm broth with beef which they lapped up eagerly, then Andy handed us each a tin of dog treats and we went up and down the lines giving them their rewards.

These dogs are beautiful athletes. They took absolute pleasure in running the trails and pulling our sled. Let’s not take for granted their heritage, evidenced in these gorgeous sled dog eyes!

We all went back into the barn to relax and talk, and had a chance to meet the staff again over coffee and snacks. (That’s when we met Pete, a three-legged rescue dog who looked like our dog Penny because they’re both part German Shepherd mixed with something fuzzier. Isn’t he cute?)

I cannot recommend highly enough the experience of taking a trip to Eden Dog Sledding. The energy on the grounds and with which we were greeted was both warm, and inviting, a compliment to the excitement we felt, and the perfect antidote to any anxieties we may have had about the dogs being treated humanely. Instead of feeling uneasy, we felt like we had come home to about 30 dogs we’d met somewhere before… and they all had been waiting for us to arrive. I’m so glad we had a chance to do this together, and I wish their business all the best!

Other points of interest:
Pet-Friendly lodging at Eden.
Learn skijoring from a two-time National Skijor champion.

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