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MUSHING ON MIRROR LAKE: Dog sledding a LP tradition, and a part of Olympic history

January 25, 2010
ERIC VOORHIS, News Staff Writer
     LAKE PLACID — Buster, a 12-year-old Alaskan Husky with a scrappy coat, barked and yipped, bouncing up and down on his front legs. His wide shoulders were tense and his pointed ears stood straight up toward the graying sky. He wore a red harness, strapped in with six other restless dogs in rows of two, eager to pull a homemade sled across Mirror Lake.


    A family of four visiting from Ithaca sat snugly in the sled, rosy-cheeked and full of smiles.


    “Hike,” yelled AJ Arnold, jumping onto the back of the sled and pushing off the wet snow with his right foot.


    Atticus and Finch, two sprightly young huskies at the rear of the pack, sprung up and launched themselves forward. The sled scuffed across the slushy lake, then built momentum into a quick glide. Snow began to fall as the dog sled team raced on in the distance.


Father and son


mushers at


the Golden Arrow


    Thirty six years ago Mike Arnold, AJ’s father, found an orphaned husky on his property. He wasn’t really in the market for a dog at the time, but took the young pup into his home. His neighbor also had a young husky and after a little “unplanned breeding” Mike found himself the proud owner of an entire litter. A year later he used his skills as a carpenter and woodworker to build a dog sled out of white ash, a light and flexible wood, and put the dogs to work, giving them the exercise they craved.


    “They have to be about a year old before you can run them,” Mike said. “Otherwise their bones aren’t entirely formed.” His eyes were fixed on the sled as it made its way around a set track on Mirror Lake. Recent warm weather had turned the lake into a pile of slush, which can be discouraging for a dog sled team.


    “It’s a hot day for the dogs,” said Mike, leaning on a snow shovel. “They’re wishing it was 30 or 40 degrees colder out here.”


      The father/son team, along with the help of Mark Daby, offer rides in front of the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort on Friday through Monday whenever the conditions are right. Mike Arnold has been in the same spot running tours for the last 29 years. His son AJ has been on dog sleds since he was in the womb, and has become an integral part of his father’s business. He is the owner of Atticus and Finch who he calls the “spoiled house pets of the team.”


    Altogether Mike Arnold owns 25 Alaskan Huskies — a mixed breed of northern dog defined mostly by its high efficiency in pulling sleds — who live in a large fenced in area next to his house.


    “They sound off every morning around 5:30,” Mike said. “Just roaring to go.”


    Arnold’s team of dogs is bred from Siberian husky crossed with Samoyed which is “more like the village dog, the house dog, pulling loads of wood and things,” Mike said. “They are bred more for endurance.


    “You take a racing dog and mix it with a freight dog and you get something in between,” he added.


    Sled dogs can be conditioned to run more than 100 miles in a 24-hour period, and although Arnold’s dogs usually only run about 35-40 miles in a working day, they show incredible endurance and strength. And boy can they eat.


    “We buy dog food by the ton, and go through about 10,000 pounds a year,” Mike said.





Dog sledding at the 1932 Olympics and its Lake Placid connection


    Dog sledding is very much a part of Lake Placid’s character, going back to the 1932 Winter Olympic games when it was chosen as one of two unofficial “demonstration sports” allowed by the International Olympic Committee. Thirteen mushers from the United States and Canada competed in a two-day, 22.5-mile derby in areas surrounding Lake Placid, beginning and ending at the Olympic Arena.


    “The drivers, in their efforts to win, made a grueling test of the race,” said the book compiled after the 1932 games by the local organizing committee.


    Lake Placid was also home to a giant in the world of dog sledding — not just in the Olympic Region, but all over the world — named Jacques Suzanne, a French-born painter and explorer who settled here in the 1920s.


    Sixteen years before settling in the North Country, however, Suzanne at the age of 25, decided he was going to be the first ever to drive a sled and team of dogs through Siberia and across the North Pole, with Labrador as his ultimate goal. Although face-to-face with death, bearing the force of harsh Arctic winds, he completed the 5,000 miles by dog sled — the longest trek by sled ever recorded.


    Suzanne eventually settled down in Lake Placid and gave rides around town.


    “As far as I know dog sleds have been available in the North Country for more than 100 years,” Mike Arnold said.


    Along with Suzanne, another well known musher in town, dating back to the 1940s was Hank Wilson who used to run dog-sled rides right up and down main street, before moving onto the lake.





Thunder


Mountain Dogs


    About 20 years ago John Houghton, Mirror Lake’s other sled owner and the operator of the Thunder Mountain Kennel, took over for Hank Wilson, and has been giving rides ever since.


    “I got my start in racing, before offering rides down on the lake,” Houghton said. “Don’t really race too much anymore though.”


    Houghton runs his dog-sled team opposite from the Arnold’s operation in front of the Mirror Lake Inn, and has also enlisted his son Tucker for help. His dogs differ from Arnold’s and are more of the racing variety, leggier and sleeker.


    “My dogs stem from the Redington Kennel, which is well known with Ididerod races,” Houghton said. He runs dog-sled rides during the weekends if conditions permit.


    Dog-sled rides have been a long standing tradition in Lake Placid and it doesn’t seem as though they will stop any time soon. And neither will the dogs.


    “They know how to run the first time you set them up in a harness,” Mike Arnold said. “They love to do it and it’s nearly impossible to tire them out.”   

Article Photos

Atticus and Finch, two Alaskan Huskies ready for action. Above, Mark Daby brings the team to a halt in front of the Golden Arrow Resort.

Photos/Eric Voorhis/Lake Placid News

Fact Box


If you go ...

Golden Arrow Dogsleds
Open from 10 a.m. to dusk, Thursday through Sunday.
$10 per ride
For more information, call the Golden Arrow at (800) 582-5540.

Thunder Mountain Dog Sled Tours on the Lake Friday to Monday, depending on conditions.
$10 per ride.
For more information, call (518) 891-6239
or e-mail: hooter216@verizon.net

 
 

 

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