Brett Dody can make his sled dance.By accelerating through an uphill turn, the San Juan Sledders president can wiggle and skim, down and back up a slope with his Polaris, tossing up snow in all directions.
There wasn't much fresh powder Saturday, but the veteran snowmobiler took many trips around the groomed trails at Molas Lake Park as part of his group's annual Fun Day. The event is a day of winter recreation put on for disabled clients and hosted by the San Juan Sledders, the Silverton Snowmobile Club, the Durango Dog Ranch and Community Connections Inc.
And oh yeah, it's fun.
At 45 degrees, it was a perfect day for sledding, too. Warm enough for loose clothing and cold enough for solid traction in the snow.
Dody and other experienced riders kept busy most of the morning. Over and again, clients clung tight to handles on snowmobiles and dog sleds, some wary at first, many wanting to go faster in the end.
Naomi Austin has come out to most Community Connections events, but her severe asthma has kept her from taking part in strenuous physical activities. Saturday, she let her supported living staff worker Mary Dees talk her into taking a ride around the park in the snow cat. From there, she was talked onto the back of a snowmobile.
Jerry Bryant, owner of the Silverton Trading Post, yelled directions to her over the roar of his Polaris' 4-stroke engine.
"Are you ready to go for a ride?" he asked.
"No," she replied.
Dees was delighted as Austin gave in, and snapped pictures of her as she plowed around. Austin gave a big thumbs-up when she dismounted the sled.
"I'm more of an indoor person than an outdoor person," she said from the relative safety of firm ground.
Community Connections staff member Mark Sowers took two clients, Dave Hutchinson and Brook Jensen, up to the park. Off the clock, on the clock - Sowers isn't always sure.
"I think (Sowers) is pretty nice," said Hutchinson.
"About as nice as they get, right?" said Sowers.
Steven K. Goff made special protective winter eyewear for the event by screwing sunglasses lenses onto a pair of safety goggles. They can withstand a direct impact with a tree, he said.
Workers from the Durango Dog Ranch donated the use of two sleds and dog teams. The howling dogs were almost as excited to take off as Raven Regalado, Sharon Mehesy and Lloyd Ensign, who sat back-to-stomach on the front of the sled.
Before they get started, musher Greg Dubit took a newbie through the three rules of dog sledding: Rule 1: Don't let go. Rule 2: Don't let go. Rule 3: Follows suit - anything to avoid the dreaded "walk of shame" to retrieve the sled, which can take miles and hours.
Neal Polacek was standing around waiting for his turn on the snow cat.
"Those dogs are ready to go," he said over bellowing yelps.
By hanging back, he got first crack at a ride on the imposing grooming machine - his plan all along. Jimmie Lokey sat in the swiveling captain's chair and welcomed him aboard.
"Stand by for takeoff," said Lokey.
The dog teams could still be seen in the distance as Lokey took Polacek on a loop around the park. With no clouds around, a 360-degree vista of beer-commercial-worthy peaks distracts easily. The two charged at top speed (about 11 mph) at a steep snowbank.
The snow cat has a nice stereo, and REO Speedwagon's "Dream Weaver" had to be loud to be heard over the 350-horsepower 8.3-liter Cummins engine:I've just closed my eyes againClimbed aboard the Dream Weaver trainDriver take away my worries of todayAnd leave tomorrow behind.