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Colorado dog sled guide preparing for Wyoming’s Stage Stop

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BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. (AP) - Six snowy miles up Tiger Road, seemingly closer to Keystone than Breckenridge, a cacophony of Siberian husky howls fill the air. At the foot of Mount Guyot, Good Times Adventures is a dog-sledding and snowmobiling oasis deep in the woods.

If you hop on a snowmobile from the main building and ride up the hill - right about to where Good Times staff boils pots of chow for their herds of huskies - you'll find Tim Thiessen readying for yet another cold winter day as a dog-sled guide. It was about 18 years ago when the Denver native "fell into a cool job and got hooked" as an 18-year-old.

Growing up in the city of Denver, Thiessen dreamed of living in the mountains while he cared for his family's mutt rescues from the pound, Sparky and Toby. These days, Thiessen's Alaskan husky mixes Bullet and Pyro are his lead dogs when the longtime sled guide competes in dog-sledding competitions, such as next month's seven-stage, 250-mile journey from Jackson, Wyoming, into Idaho and back to Teton County, Wyoming. The race is formally the 25th annual Pedigree Stage Stop Race, probably the biggest dog-sled race in the lower 48.

It's not the iconic Iditarod up in Alaska, but for the Leadville resident Thiessen and the 14 dogs he'll bring with him, this is a race to live for.

Thiessen and his "kids" do just that at their remote, off-the-grid home, which is a two-mile snowmobile from the nearest road.

"With the competitive side, I get to spend so many days with my kids and my best friends on the trail," Thiessen said. "And when I say 'my kids,' (I mean) my dogs. They are my best friends, and I want to see them have fun. That's the main goal of running them."

Having raised labs before getting into the sled-dog life, Thiessen said the dogs love running the sled as much as labs like playing fetch. They live for it. Even if it means 17 of them sleeping with Thiessen inside his trailer, as they did between a pair of stages somewhere in the vastness of Wyoming last year, when they competed in the Pedigree Stage Stop Race for the first time.

"It can be noisy. Sometimes they'll eat your pillow while you're sleeping," Thiessen said with a laugh. "But each dog has their own box, their own area.

"When I'm pushing," Thiessen added, "I'm helping them out. I'm one of the dogs. I'm the alpha dog, but I'm one of them."

Over his years working as a dog-sledding guide, Thiessen gradually got into having a pack of his own. Then his close Leadville friend and fellow musher, Austin Forney, encouraged him to take part in the Pedigree Stage Stop. This year, the championship purse is $165,000. A year after finishing 20th of 25 mushers, Thiessen isn't expecting to challenge for that purse. In an event like this, when you and your dogs are climbing hill after hill, weathering snowstorm after snowstorm or grinding through unexpected variables - such as last year's heat - merely finishing the odyssey is a victory.

This year, Bullet and Pyro will push the team to be a little faster. Thiessen said Bullet is an almost 80% German shorthair pointer, a pooch Thiessen describes as a sprint-racing dog that he's pushing in terms of distance.

Bullet, like the rest of Thiessen's dogs, has Alaskan husky blood. Thiessen said those qualities of a Siberian husky mixed with a hound produce dogs that are less stubborn than Siberians. Because of their innate nature to please, it's no trouble for Thiessen to get home to Leadville from a day out at Good Times and train them on area trails, such as around Turquoise Lake.

When they're training or racing at their best, Thiessen said the dogs can move the sled at a clip of about 15 mph. For a journey like the Pedigree, anything over 18 mph is too fast. The dogs won't have the endurance. Monitoring his speed with a GPS - one of the key tools he's able to have with him in the sled, including a hatchet, a sleeping bag, a first-aid kit and two extra dogs - Thiessen balances the care for his dogs while also letting them fulfill their biological yearning to run and run and run some more.

Once in Wyoming, Thiessen hopes his training regimen of running mountainous hills above 10,000 feet help him in the race. With many mushers and their dogs coming down from lower-elevation locales, like the Yukon, Thiessen said he thinks his dogs benefit from running at altitude.

All that training aside, after last year's race - which at times trudged over mud and dirt - Thiessen is ready to serve as the "alpha dog" at the start line Jan. 31 in Jackson Hole.

When he's there, will the alpha dog have butterflies?

"Oh yeah," he said.

Article Topic Follows: Wyoming

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Associated Press


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