Driving is simple, in principle. There's no steering wheel or rudder. To go left, Aaron shouts "haw"; to go right, "gee." When the sled makes a turn, we lean hard to keep it from toppling—assuming that we actually turn. As often as not, the dogs ignore the command. "They can sense if I'm not watching," Aaron explains. As he's talking, one of the two lead dogs starts drifting off the trail. "Kanobe!" he shouts, and Kanobe veers straight again, looking back with eyes that say Whaat?
The team is like a bunch of schoolkids 10 minutes before the bell, and Aaron is the substitute teacher, continually coaxing and disciplining. One lead dog will start glancing off to the side, then the other will drift, and before you know it the whole team is tearing off god knows where. The only thing Aaron can do then is throw down the "snow anchor"—a metal hook on a rope that jams into the snowpack—and run forward to drag the dogs in the right direction. Once they're running well, he praises them lavishly, sometimes stopping the sled to let them lick his face.
We cruise along the groomed snow of a broad, flat access road. The sunshine is warm, and thickets of fir trees open up to reveal vistas of the Rockies. I balance on the runner as the snow slips unhurriedly beneath. "Want to try something a little more interesting?" Aaron asks.
He coaxes the team onto a side trail that curves into dense forest. Suddenly we're flying around trees and burning through narrow gaps in the branches. It's a workout just hanging on, and when the dogs go uphill, we both have to kick along with one foot to help out. Soon I'm peeling off layers.
We stop before a precipitous downhill slope. Aaron tells me to sit on top of the baggage so he can focus on controlling the sled. Bundled under the canvas cover, I'm as helpless as the baby on the Potemkin steps, unable to see over the edge of the slope. The dogs disappear, and for a moment we seem to hang in the air. Then we're whooshing downward, churning up a cloud of snow until a whiteout envelops everything.
When the snow clears, we're crossing a frozen lake beneath the walls of an orange-red butte, heading for Brooks Lake Lodge. We arrive to find the other sledders waiting in the dining room, a hall three stories high with a towering fireplace and log walls painted by 90 years of woodsmoke. Both of the other teams crashed their sleds."The dogs were rounding a corner, and next thing I knew, I was upside down in a snowbank," says John, the San Franciscan. He can't stop laughing as he tells the story.
"You got the Bonus Package," Aaron says. Later he tells me, "Most guests start out nervous about tipping over, but it winds up being their favorite part."