Krabloonik dog sled owners on thin ice with Snowmass Village

The operation has been at the center of criticism from animal activists, state investigations and complaints from whistle-blowing employees over its treatment of the sled dogs for more than two decades

Krabloonik as seen on Aug. 23, in Snowmass Village.
File photo

The leash on Krabloonik Dog Sledding is getting tighter.

The town of Snowmass Village last week notified the operation’s owners they’ll need to leave by the end of the month because they’re not meeting the conditions of the best practices plan that is part of their lease agreement. The town is the landlord for the Krabloonik property located at 4250 Divide Road and near the Campground area of Snowmass ski area.

The final notice of default was dated Oct. 6 and signed by town lawyer John Dresser. The intended recipients of the notice, Krabloonik owners Gina and Danny Phillips, did not respond to telephone and email messages left with them on Tuesday.

Krabloonik has been a Snowmass fixture since 1976, when the late Dan MacEachen opened the operation after receiving county approval in 1974, drawing patrons for its restaurant’s game menu and the sled-dog rides pulled by Alaskan huskies under a musher’s guidance.

The operation, however, has been at the center of criticism from animal activists, state investigations and complaints from whistle-blowing employees over its treatment of the sled dogs for more than two decades. The Phillips bought the operation from MacEachen in December 2014, and an outside best-practices review committee was created in 2015, crafting policies that Krabloonik was to follow in order to stay in compliance with its lease.

The committee in June provided the town with a report, showing Krabloonik was not following the best practices, prompting the town to notify the Phillips they were in default of their lease. Town Council members last month agreed to have the town lawyer put the Phillips on final notice that they would need to go.

“The best practices committee gave us their findings, and we found them in default,” said Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk. “And, he (Danny Phillips) had a certain amount of time to cure the default, and we didn’t find that he cured it sufficiently.”

Shenk said that “for me, personally, the record keeping and the off-tether time is particularly what I’m bothered by.”

Leigh Vogel, one of the founders of the now-defunct Voice for Krabloonik — an advocacy group for the sled dogs that had a key role in drawing attention to the kennel’s operations — continued to keep tabs on Krabloonik. She remains concerned about the dogs’ fate.

“The members of the Town of Snowmass Village Town Council have established that this business has not met the standards of care for the dogs outlined in the lease between Krabloonik and the Town,” she said in a text message. “The big question is: What will happen to the dogs now? Will dogs be sold or given to other businesses? Will any be euthanized? Members of this community and beyond have expressed that they are prepared to step up at a moment’s notice to help. All of these dogs deserve to released from chains immediately and be adopted in to homes, where they will get the care and respect they have always deserved.”

Krabloonik’s lease, which the Phillips agreed to in June 2015, is set to expire Sept. 26, 2026. The town charged the Phillips $10 a year in rent under the agreement. The agreement also gave the Phillips the option to buy the property for $2.3 million when the lease expired. The purchase price also would factor in the lower amount of either an increase in the Boulder Consumer Price Index or 3%.

Town Manager Clint Kinney said they are seeing what Krabloonik’s ownership decides to do in the next month before making any calls about the property’s future.

“Right now, there is a lease on the property,” he said. “We have an absolute obligation to the tenants with the lease on the property.”

Shenk said, “It’s a hard thing. We have this lease with this controversial business, and it’s caused a lot of headaches. And, there are a lot of concerned community members — and we don’t take this lightly that someone has to close down their business, but, at the same time, he has had multiple opportunities to cure the default.”