Buttermilk going to the dogs Saturday | AspenTimes.com

Buttermilk going to the dogs Saturday

Jon Maletz
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

On Saturday, man’s best friend will become man’s best teammate.More than 200 owners and their four-legged companions are expected to take part in the 11th annual Sun Dog’s K-9 Uphill at Buttermilk, event director and Sun Dog Athletics owner Erik Skarvan said Wednesday.”It’s an end of the season celebration to dog ownership,” Skarvan said. “There’s always such good energy. It’s a spectacle.”Three-pound dogs will walk side-by-side with 150-pound German shepherds on the two-mile course that stars at the base of Buttermilk and ascends some 2,000 vertical feet to the top of the east summit. Some have even made the walk while carrying their pups in backpacks. Skarvan laughed when, one year, he watched an owner being dragged by the harnesses of three Yorkshire terriers. It’s clear this is not your average uphill – unless there are other competitions where participants routinely sport Hawaiian shirts. Or drool.

That’s exactly what Skarvan intended. Sure, those with the itch for racing can sign up for the competitive division. The majority of the field, however, chooses the recreational route.”It’s really fun to see people come out who normally wouldn’t take part in an uphill race,” Skarvan said. “This is more of an uphill festival. We’ve had entire families coming out, with kids and grandparents. This is very doable, even for those who have basic aerobic fitness.”Skarvan conjured the idea some 10 years ago in response to his desire to memorialize a friend lost. His dog Rasta, whom Skarvan had for 13 years dating back to his college days, passed away during the spring of 1995.”When I was trying to establish myself in the early 80s, he was my partner in life and crime,” Skarvan remembered. “We did crazy adventures together, and he was always there for me. I couldn’t let that go without doing some type of memorial.”I know he would’ve loved something like this.”In the fall of ’95 Skarvan welcomed Sun Dog to the family; later that winter, with 4-year-old Sunny biting at her leash the majority of the way, the two crossed the finish of the first uphill; Skarvan has a picture of the event in his office to this day. The two have competed ever since. Skarvan now has a second teammate, Racer, pulling him along each year.

There were 65 teams during the inaugural event, Skarvan said. In 2003, a record 285 teams took part, no doubt drawn by the allure of a unique opportunity to compete alongside their pets. “Out of all these great events around here, none are dog-friendly,” Skarvan said. “What we do in our free time for normal recreation we do with our dogs, so why keep leaving them at home? This way you don’t have to leave your friend at home and they can share in the experience.”Even those people who wish to attend, but don’t have a dog are invited to come out; demo dogs are available. Last year, 24 demo dogs from local shelters and the Animal Rescue Foundation were on hand. Four ARF dogs wound up being adopted.”The shelter dogs are always appreciative,” Skarvan said. “They don’t get to do this fun stuff, and this is a get-out-of-jail-free card for the day.” Skarvan is optimistic this year’s event again will attract a large crowd. The early entry fee was lowered to $25 and, in conjunction with http://www.active.com, interested parties can now register online. In addition, good snow and a favorable forecast that calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the 50s, and the uphill’s date, which falls in between closing days at the area mountains, should translate into a high turnout. After the course is groomed Friday, Skarvan will personally flag the course, hiding life-size laminated Xerox copies of Snowshoe cats along the way – they can be turned in at the aprés party for additional prizes.

Skarvan said he eagerly looks forward to race day, when he’ll be standing at the start, microphone in hand, trying to deliver directions amid a chorus of 200-plus barks. “I could be on the X Games PA system and no one would hear me,” he joked.Organizing the event is demanding, but come Saturday it yields only satisfaction, Skarvan said. Proceeds from the event will benefit the new Aspen/Pitkin Animal shelter and Valley Dog Rescue. And the pictures of Rasta, which will hang on a bulletin board at Buttermilk for all to see, are sure to stir up some powerful memories.He admitted that he never knew how long the uphill would run after its inaugural year, but Skarvan said he sees no reason why it will stop anytime soon. “With the support this event gets from the community and the [Aspen] Skiing Company, it makes me motivated to keep doing it,” Skarvan said. “It takes something to motivate and drive me every year. I’m feeling the love and the support to keep it going.”- Those interested in the K-9 Uphill can pre-register at Ajax Bike and Sport in Aspen, R.J. Paddywack’s in the East Orchard Plaza, or by contacting Sun Dog Athletics at 925-1069 or sundog@sopris.net.Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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