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caption: Larry Roxby, standing, said he's seen a spike in demand for sled dog rides this winter.
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Larry Roxby, standing, said he's seen a spike in demand for sled dog rides this winter.
Credit: KUOW/Amy Radil

Sled dogs in demand in Washington state amid snow sports craze

Pandemic staycations and heavy snowfall have made it a banner year for snow sports in Washington state, and the 10 sled dogs taking off from the trailhead near Lake Wenatchee seem pretty pleased.

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 release the sled, it’s suddenly quiet as the dogs and their passengers take off onto the snowpacked trail.

Roxby points out the places he’s spotted cougars and moose. He also gives the history of each dog: some are racing champions with famous pedigrees. Others are rescue dogs with scars from their previous life. Roxby coaxes them up the trail 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 running sled dogs more than a decade ago, as an alternative to snowmobiles for winter camping.

“It really is about seeing the dogs enjoy themselves, and it’s a way for me to access wilderness without motors going,” he said.

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

Roxby said he saw a spike in demand this year, as people sought open-air outings closer to home during the pandemic.

“It’s probably threefold the amount 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 the day trippers seeking places to sled and play this winter.

“We were getting calls for 20 rides per day, seven days per week, and we only do six to nine rides per week,” Roxby said.

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

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

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

But Roxby said in summer, the dogs are completely at leisure on the couple’s rural property. He said, “They dig up mouse colonies and they make caves and they swim and chase fish, and they start to resemble bratwurst.”