PARK CITY, Utah — Dog sledding might not be the first sport that comes to mind when Utah is mentioned, but that hasn’t stopped Park City native Fernando Ramirez and his pack of dogs from rising through the ranks to join Team USA at the 2023 World Championships in France from January 24-28. Joining Team USA is not a given; it was hard work and determination that led to the opportunity to compete.
Fernando Ramirez and his wife, Dana, are owners of Rancho Luna Lobos, located just south of Rockport Reservoir. Their home offers dog sledding adventures to the public and many pet-centered services such as boarding and even a sled dog school. The year-round operation might be the day job, but the competition is just as important to Fernando and the dogs. Their success in competing around the U.S. and Canada put them on the United States Federation of Sleddog Sports (USFSS) radar for a possible place on Team USA.
“When I got an email from one of the board members of the USFSS, United States Federation of Sleddog Sports, I was “highly encouraged” to apply for a spot to compete in France for the 2023 World Championships to represent Team USA. This has been a dream since I was racing as a young boy. Growing up in Park City, I was privileged to be able to train and compete in this sport for many years. I trained at Round Valley before there was a trail system there,” said Fernando.
“The process and standards a musher needs to meet in order even to be considered are quite challenging. If a musher seems to be a good candidate for a spot on the team, the USFSS committee could then ask a musher to compete in a race, weeks before worlds, just to see if the musher and team have what it takes to go to France. The musher can be accepted or denied weeks before going… We were lucky and blessed that our racing resume alone was accepted, and we were offered a spot on the team! When I read the email, I was actually picking up a dog at Wasatch Animal Clinic, and I shouted out in disbelief! The staff and vets joined me in excitement!”
From famous stories like Balto and the subsequent 1995 animated movie, it’s fair to assume that any dog sled team would be made up of Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, or some other winter-friendly breed. That’s what makes this team of dogs so unique in that they are not the typical team of sled dogs. They have their own journey that placed them on the path to joining Ramirez. To him, these dogs are athletes and just as capable regardless of their beginnings, whether rescue dogs, mixed breed, or have been donated to Rancho Luna Lobos.
“Other mushers breed their dogs to become World Champions. At Rancho Luna Lobos, as one man put it, “You make more of a lesser dog; that’s why they run like champions for you…”
“On paper, we are underdogs. But I can guarantee you that my dogs have more heart than any other. When I call on each dog while we’re running, they know their name, and they know that it is a privilege and honor to represent themselves in this art form. Even better, representing Team USA,” said Ramirez.
The dogs and Ramirez train hard and work just as hard to perform in competitions. Nothing but the best is spared for the dogs as all of their efforts are not taken for granted but rather celebrated. The connection between musher and dog is paramount to Ramirez in competition and operations at Rancho Luna Lobos with his wife, Dana. To them, dog sledding is a work of art where man and dog must share in the work.
“The dogs eat about 10,000 calories a day. Doggy protein shakes, and doggy gatorade are important ingredients in their diet. They get massages and stretches after every training run. K9 Chiropractors are important for alignment. It’s all about the 1%’ers at this level.”