It ‘mush’ be love: New sled dog pup at YMCA named after young enthusiast
When Snow Mountain Ranch was bustling with winter activity last Christmas, the LaBerge family traveled to the YMCA of the Rockies lodge with one purpose in mind: to take a ride on a sled pulled by a team of Alaskan huskies.
But when they arrived it seemed Mother Nature wasn’t going to cooperate.
It was a light winter and there wasn’t enough snow on the ground for the dogs to pull the sled. The Westminster family’s scheduled ride was cancelled and the daughter, Ravel, 9, was heartbroken. It was her Christmas wish to get a sled dog ride.
Then, that night, a Christmas miracle occurred as snow began to fall.
Steve Peterson, chaplain for the ranch, located south of Granby, and the director of the sled dog program, received a call from Christine LaBerge, Ravel’s mother, who explained their situation. Peterson worked with the family to set up a special ride for Ravel and came in on his day off for the occasion.
“So I said I’ll tell you what I’ll do, typically I’m off on Wednesdays, but I’ll come in on Wednesday and I will take her out, just a special ride just for her and we’ll go for a really long one,” Peterson said. “So we did that and it began this amazing relationship; it had this profound impact on her.”
Since that fateful holiday, Peterson has stayed in touch with the family. They even sponsored one of his huskies, Zenyatta, so when he found out she was pregnant, it was an easy decision to name one after Ravel.
“It just began a really fun relationship,” he said. “Now I’m sure there will be a long-term relationship there.”
Earlier this month, Zenyatta gave birth to six puppies. Unfortunately, only four survived, three boys and one girl. Of course one was named Ravel and the others named Wyatt, Weston and Ruthie.
Two other puppies are also named after children who had a special connection with the program.
Peterson said he thinks participants are particularly impacted by the uniqueness of the program, which they try to make a “family-friendly, whole experience.”
Christine LaBerge said their experience was made special by Peterson’s efforts and his continued support of Ravel’s love for dog sledding.
“I think so much of it comes down to Steve,” she said. “He’s a very inspiring person and (there’s) an incredibly positive energy to him. He was so supportive of Ravel and he went out of his way to help her have this experience and to connect with her.”
Ravel’s experience had such an effect on her that she covered her bedroom wall in pictures of Peterson’s huskies and even decided her school science project would be to try and teach her neighbor’s dogs how to pull a sled. With some consultation from Peterson, she was successful and won first place at the science fair.
The LaBerges have since returned to Snow Mountain Ranch a few times, even featured in a YMCA promotional video this summer. They plan to make a trip back soon to meet the puppies.
“(Ravel’s) absolutely thrilled,” LaBerge said. “She’s extremely honored and we’re so excited to meet the puppies.”
HANGING WITH THE HUSKIES
The sled dog program at Snow Mountain Ranch started eight years ago and has been popular since its inception. Peterson estimated that the dogs take about 1,500 people on rides each winter.
From mid-December to April, participants can choose from a short and long sled dog ride, as well as a group option and a full moon ride. Before the rides, there is a presentation on dog sledding.
“It’s a very values-based presentation,” Peterson explained. “It isn’t just about dogs and racing, it’s about life. … It becomes a really great teaching tool for young people about responsibility, respect, communication and teamwork, integrity.”
In the summer, the ranch offers the Hanging with the Huskies program at its dog park, which allows participants to interact with some of the 18 huskies Peterson owns and learn about dog sledding.
Kristen Spronz, brand manager for the Snow Mountain Ranch-YMCA of the Rockies, said one of the program’s goals is to familiarize people with the sport and help dispel its myths, such as it being inhumane.
“A lot of people may think it’s inhumane to run the dogs the way (we) run them,” Spronz admitted. “But if you see the dogs, ours are much more social than most. They’re super friendly and loving like pets when they’re hanging out with everyone before they sled, but as soon as they’re hooked up in a line, all they want to do is run.”
Peterson’s huskies also still get a chance to compete in races. He said that, though the dogs’ main job is at the YMCA, he tries to race at least once a year.
Growing up in Minnesota, Peterson developed a love for sled dog racing because it combined his passions. When he moved to Grand Lake, he brought with him only three huskies, one sled and a few other pieces of equipment.
When the YMCA approached him about establishing the program, he was glad for the chance to share his love for the dogs and the outdoors. It’s an opportunity he has cherished ever since.
“I tell my students if you discover your passion and something you have skills at and a human need, when those three things intersect, wow, it’s magical,” Peterson said. “That’s kind of what happened to me with this program.”
Read this article on Sky-Hi News: https://www.skyhinews.com/news/it-mush-be-love-new-sled-dog-pup-at-ymca-named-after-young-enthusiast/