Dog sledding opens the senses
It is often the view of a specific place that sticks to your memory. But I know for sure I will always remember this specific moment for its sound. We are surrounded by dogs that are howling like wolves. The continuous sound seems to be a collective effort to intimidate us. Dog sledding in Lapland is opens the senses.
Husky musher experience
For someone who’s afraid of dogs, I was strangely determined to have a musher experience. I have never been fond of dogs, which I totally blame on my dad. Ever since I was a kid, he was overprotective when we encountered dogs that were roaming our hiking path.
So am I out of my comfort zone now that I am about to go dog sledding in Lapland? Yes, that’s for sure. Scared? Eh… maybe? I capture the sound in a video so I can share my braveness with my dad. If I make it through unharmed.
Somewhat trepid, I take in the features of the huskies in the kennel. Our guides select the runners for our dog sledding adventure. Some of the dogs have bright blue eyes and a fur pattern alike the cuddly toys of many toddlers. Others have fierce looking eyes and a fur composition that gives them a wrought-up look.
The dogs that are lined up in front of our sleds are jumping up and down as they are eager to take off. We would have lost them right away if they were not on a leash that is anchored in the ground.
The smell of dog sledding
The three dogs waiting in front of my sled are less excited for take off and more interested in sniffing and eating the now surrounding them. Yellow snow that is, stained with the urine of other dogs. As I mentioned before, dog sledding in Lapland opens the senses. It is not just the sound of this moment that’s imprinted in my memory, it is definitely the smell as well.
Dog sledding techniques
Our guide Tomas is a cheerful red bearded local. Before we leave the kennel and head for Abisko National Park, he shares some last words of much needed advice with us. The wooden sled will be our means of transport for the coming hours. It is up to us to control the enthusiastic bunch of huskies.
We receive instructions on how to get going and stay on your sled. A musher has to stand up straight with the knees slightly bent. We have to balance on the wedges of the sled. The break is an iron bar in between the wooden wedges that you can push into the snow with your feet. The resistance will slow down the dogs. To corner, one has to shift body weight and carefully balance on the wedges. It is a tricky move, especially when lifting up a leg to break.
There are two guides – Tomas who is leading the first sled with the heard of females that has all the male dogs running and Andreas on his snow scooter to keep the group together.
“And remember: the dogs will not stop running.”
Tomas emphasises that we should not allow our dogs to overtake the dogs in front of us. The dogs are true alpha males and overtaking will guarantee a fight. If we loose our dogs, we have to give a shout and run after them. If the person behind us looses his dogs, we should try and grab the reins when they pass by. I wonder how often that happens. Twice per tour apparently.
“On average two people are thrown off their sled each tour.”
The dogs in front of my sled have by now also decided that the adventure ahead is more exiting than yellow snow. Right. Off we go.
Husky mushing in Abisko National Park
A short run to help the dogs uphill and I’m on the sled. As the dogs pick up speed, I bend down. It is the only way I can avoid hitting the low hanging branches of the leafless winter trees. I am grateful that I manage to stay on the sled.
The trees make way for open field and the horizon comes into view. The sloping, far stretching landscape is topped with dreamy light pink and blue skies like an aquarelle painting. Abisko National Park presents itself as a true Winter Wonderland. The huskies blend in perfectly.
I can see breath clouds coming from the panting dogs. As the cold wind hits my own face, I push up my scarf to cover my chin. The tips of my fingers and toes already feel numb. Luckily, my core is warm from the thermal underwear, ski pants and arctic parka I am wearing.
How to fail your husky musher test
As we are making our way downhill, the huskies slightly get off track. I change my body weight to carefully steer them in the right direction. At least, that is the plan. Instead, I loose balance as soon as I lift up my leg to try a soft break. I initially try to hold on to the sled, but then decide it is better to let go. Stepping of seems less painful than being catapulted into the air. And so it happens that I’m the first of the group to loose my dogs.
I quickly step aside to let the other mushers pass. Since I am rather frightened by the dogs I dare not stay in their way. As soon as they have passed, I start a sprint to catch up with mine. Or at least, that was the plan. The reality is that as I try to land my foot on the snow it does not find solid ground. The surface I am standing on is not the same surface as the compact path we use for sledding. My foot, ankle, and then my entire leg disappears in the snow and I fall down in the white powder. It could have been a scene from Bridget Jones’s Diary. Luckily, Andreas catches my huskies gone loose so I can continue the musher experience.
Tranquil experience or hard work: dog sledding is both
It is a truly unforgettable experience to slide through the still and deserted landscape. All is quiet but for the sound of the panting dogs. There is no possibility of talking nor photography. Instead, it is just the dogs, the sled, and yourself. It is an amazing way to experience the beauty of the national park.
But is it relaxing? No, I wouldn’t go for that description. As you continuously have to keep your balance, your muscles get quite sore. Going uphill means that you have to run and push the sled. The dogs are strong, but do not have the strength to pull you up. The upside of that is however that your fingers and toes warm up quickly.
Heated up and ready to take your musher skills to a next level, you might be stuck behind another amateur. One that is not afraid of dogs but of the entire activity, and thus slows down your group. Remember, you are not allowed to take over.
Such a young woman was mushing in front of me. Her constant braking made it impossible for the dogs to turn a downhill corner. She was catapulted off her sled. Luckily, it was a soft snow landing.
Arriving at the kennel some hours later, I feel exhausted and energised at the same time. Strangely enough I am eager to give my huskies a big hug. Now that they are tired from the exercise they quietly sit down and wait for food. I am impressed by their strength and am a lot more confident standing next to them now.
My partner dares me to pose for a picture with a beautiful grey and white male husky. I will definitely send this picture to my Dad when I am back at the mountain lodge.
By the time we leave the kennel the huskies have started howling again.
Should I book a dog sledding or husky musher adventure?
Husky mushing is a truly different experience than simply sledding. Dog sledding tours allow you to sit down on a sled. A professional musher will do the hard work for you. That means that you have time to take in the views and make photographs.
Husky mushing is a real adventure. There is no time to relax, but all the more time for excitement. Adrenaline will be rushing through your veins while you steer your huskies through the snow. Not for the faint of heart, and experience you will never forget.
Can anyone book a husky musher experience?
Yes, although you do have to be fit. You have to keep your balance at all times when standing on the wedges of the sled. When going uphill, you have push the sled until you reach the highest point. And, in case you loose your dogs, you have make a run for it to catch up with them.
Where can I book a husky musher experience?
Northern Norway and Sweden offer plenty opportunities for husky musher experiences. You have to be wary of the weather forecast though. It might happen that there has not been enough snow fall to allow dog sledding. Then once it does start snowing again, tours fill up quickly. So make sure you book as soon as you can.
We chose a husky musher tour in Abisko through Abisko.net. The guides were kind to both the huskies and to us. Part of the package is that the guides also take photographs during the tour. Unfortunately, there were some technical issues with the camera when we were out in the park. So what you see in this travel story is all we have in print.