Mt. Bachelor, which has been having its share of winter weather, was idyllic when I arrived, the ponderosas weighted down by thick, seamless blankets of snow. The sled dog rides start from the Sunrise parking lot. I could hear the dogs before I saw them and they were quite a sight to see - around thirty dogs, most a mix of husky from the Athabascan Indian villages in Alaska, were barking wildly and pulling at the chains they were lined up on. I was assured that the dogs were all friendly and amenable to a pat - but it was clear that they wanted to be set free.
Jerry Scdoris, co-owner of Trail of Dreams, greeted me. Scdoris has been leading sled dog rides at Mt. Bachelor since 1991 and lives completely off the grid on 40 acres in Alfalfa with his dogs and team of mushers. He's also the father of Rachael Scdoris, who, in addition to co-owning Trail of Dreams, is a legally blind musher and the youngest person to ever compete in the Iditarod in Alaska. I imagined Jerry Scdoris to be a stoic, weather-hardened mountain man flanked by huskies, pulling a bare-bones wooden sled. Instead, I met one of the friendliest people in Central Oregon.
Scdoris, 63, a large presence even among his massive pack of dogs, had the kind smile and twinkle in his eye of another certain jolly man traveling by sleigh. Scdoris helped me into his spacious Iditarod dog sled packed with thick wool blankets, which I wrapped around my body and pulled up to my chin. He chose ten of his favorite race dogs, many of which Rachael uses during her races, and attached them to the sled, lined up two-by-two. Once the dogs realized they were about to pull the sled, their barking reached a frantic decibel. Then, Scdoris yelled "Yea!" and the dogs took off in silence, pulling the sled into Bachelor's backwoods, down an empty trail surrounded by statuesque pines. The dogs pulled in synchronicity so the sled glided smoothly through the snow. It's a view I'd never experienced before. Without the distraction of riding on a board or skating on cross country skis, the breathtaking scenery gets your full attention. I felt like I was taking a tour through Narnia and half expected the White Witch to appear and offer me some Turkish Delight.
Scdoris said he became hooked on sled dog racing during a stint in the Army where he befriended some Athabascan Indians, a people renowned for sled dog racing. "I fell in love with the thought of the adventure," he said. After college and a few years on the Oregon coast, Scdoris moved to Bend to pursue his passion.
While he's raced in the past, Scdoris now leaves the world-class competitions to his daughter. Instead he offers hour-long sled dog rides daily through the winter. In the summer, Scdoris hooks the dogs up to a modified golf cart and offers rides for $10 and $5 for kids.
It's apparent that, like his intensely kinetic pack of dogs, Scdoris is happiest on his sled. Gliding through Bachelor's backcountry, Scdoris described his favorite part about sled dog racing, which he called the world's most beautiful sport. "You get into a rhythm with your dogs and it's silent and all you can hear is the dogs' breath." And in a world that is increasingly filled with noise, riding through the snow in near silence was not only a beautiful experience, but also a welcome antidote to modern-day life.
Trail of Dreams one-hour rides
$75/adult, $30/children. Marathon-length day rides, $450 per couple including lunch. For reservations, call Mt. Bachelor reservations at 1-800-829-2442.