Sled dogs are in demand in Washington state amid snow sports craze

Pandemic stays and heavy snowfall have made this a banner year for snow sports in Washington State, and the 10 sled dogs taking off from the trailhead near Lake Wenatchee seem pretty content.

At the trailhead near Leavenworth, the dogs howl in chorus and give way to a cacophony of excited barking, but once musher “Captain Larry” Roxby and his wife Jeanne Roxby let go of the sled, it’s suddenly quiet as the dogs and their passengers take off down the snowy trail.

Roxby points out where he has spotted cougars and moose. It also gives the story of each dog: some are racing champions with famous pedigrees. Others are rescue dogs with scars from their previous lives. Roxby brings them to the track with a steady stream of praise, telling them, “You’re working dogs and you’re racing dogs and you’re good dogs.”

He said he got into sled dog racing more than a decade ago as an alternative to snowmobiles for winter camping.

“It’s really about seeing the dogs having fun, and it’s a way for me to get into the wilderness without the motors running,” he said.

Now the Roxbys offer dog sled rides through their company, Northwest Dogsled Adventures.

Roxby said he’s seen a surge in demand this year as people look for outdoor outings closer to home during the pandemic.

“It’s probably triple the number of calls and all the sno-parks have been overwhelmed,” he said.

As The Seattle Times reported, Washington State Parks even opened three temporary sno-parks last month to accommodate day-trippers looking for places to sled and play this winter.

“We were getting calls for 20 rides a day, seven days a week, and we’re only doing six to nine rides a week,” Roxby said.

The dogs are given hot soup and food after each seven-mile loop through the forest, and rest on the sawdust they spread on the snow. He said increasing the number of teams and rides just wasn’t an option despite the demand.

“It has to be small enough to be a family business,” he said.

Roxby said his team will be on the track until March, snow permitting. In the spring and fall, the dogs pull specially designed carts or scooters on the Palouse to Cascades Trail to stay in shape.

But Roxby said that in the summer the dogs are completely at leisure on the couple’s rural property. He said, “They’re digging up colonies of mice and they’re making caves and they’re swimming and chasing fish, and they’re starting to look like bratwurst.”

Bette C. Alvarado