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February 05, 2004

The Dog Days of Winter

The village of Krungl, where I park the car to head out on the ski trails, has been transformed over the last two days in to Dogtown Central as the teams arrive for the “Winter Stakeout” – a three day weekend of terrible music, excellent beer, smoke filled tents, sausage off the grill, and, most importantly, dogsled races.

The dogs, according to the guy that runs the Linz team, are a bit less than thrilled about this, not because they don’t like to race or because they don’t like a good festival, but because it’s unseasonably warm. Yesterday it was up in the high 50s, though on the snow, it felt much warmer, and I was not dressed in the thick furry pelt favored by the sled dogs.

On Wednesday, only the early bird teams had arrived, staking out the best locations on the rapidly melting snow. While the dogs and their owners lolled about in the sun, a team of locals set up a green and white beer tent in front of the big farm that faces the meadows. I asked if it was okay to pet the dogs and take their pictures. The lead human told me about how they would love to go to Alaska to run there, but the travel is too hard on the dogs and they need so long to recover that it takes too much time. So they stay on this side of the Atlantic, traveling with their team through Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Italy…

By Thursday afternoon, the parking area was full of trailers. Harnessed dogs were staked out on every available dry surface. Things had started to get muddy and even though there we were outside in the open air, the air had started to acquire a certain doggy scent. There was a lot of conversation amongst the dogs; yowling, grumbling, moaning, and loud expressive yawning – not much barking though. It really does sound like they’re just lying around catching up, speaking dog to each other, occasionally alerting a human that a belly needs scratching or some ears need playing with.

For 10 euros, your kids could run a team of four around a prepared track of about one kilometer. We watched two enthusiastic ten year olds go for a spin. The team owner set them up, told them what to do, and off they went – for about 20 yards. The dogs stopped, milled around for a few minutes, the kids shouted at them, and then they seemed to reach an agreement, the dogs shooting off, pulling the sled behind them, the girls on the sled radiant with glee. In the background, the PA system broadcast a much too short loop of music featuring “Those Were the Days,” a German beer hall tune, and, heaven help us, “Who Let the Dogs Out.”

The dogs are incredible. They’re gorgeous, for starters, many of them have that characteristic one brown eye and one blue eye - and it's so striking. They’re very, very, clean, with coats that look like they were just washed, dried, and brushed. And they are unbelievably well behaved and nice. They don’t jump, they don’t bark, they don’t snap, they are unflustered by kids hovering around them in tight circles, they are really amazing. To top it off, they are very friendly. I don’t know enough about huskies to say if this is a temperamental disposition, but it certainly speaks highly of the owners.

We’re heading up to catch the races today. (Friday.) They run early, before it gets too hot, and because it’s a Friday, the crowds shouldn’t be too daunting. Maybe we’ll park the car up in the next village and ski in to avoid the hassle of getting in to town. At any rate, dog days are here. Woof. Mush!

Pictures from the races are here.

Posted by pam at February 5, 2004 11:49 PM | TrackBack
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Thanks for the story, Pam. I'd have loved to have been there. There's something about dogs in the snow that makes it seem like they were built for the task.

My favourite dog-in-snow story is from a ski trip a few years back. I was skiing a red run (equivalent to a single black diamond in the US) in Alpe d'Huez in southeastern France, and saw a dog running *backwards* down the slope, yapping his head off. It took me a while to realize that this was a guide dog, leading a blind skiier down the slope. His barks gave the blind guy something to follow. Amazing.

Posted by: david on February 11, 2004 10:54 AM

After meeting these dogs, I was seriously having doubts about my pet free status. Some dogs - like your seeing ski dog - are so much more than pets! They're navigators too. And a sled dog (or two, or eight) would serve not just as travel companion, but travel method.

I considered taking a class in how to run the dogs but resolved that it would be too hard to part with the four legged motors after the course was done. I got a little weepy just thinking about it.

Posted by: pam on February 12, 2004 06:49 AM
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