Dog Sledding: When a sleigh or sled is pulled by one or more dogs to travel over snow or ice.
Tourist Dog Sledding: Tourists sit in the sled wrapped in a blanket, drinking hot chocolate, enjoying the ride.
To be honest the latter is exactly what I thought would happen when Ryan and I headed to far North Ontario for our dog sledding tour with Winterdance Dogsled Tours. As it turned out we were about to get a lot more than we bargained for. In the best way possible!
On arrival, we were briefed on the basics of dog sledding and quickly assigned our team of dogs who were bucking with excitement as they were hooked up to the sled. From here Ryan and I took the reins. That’s right we didn’t have someone guiding the dogs for us. We were the Mushers and keeping our team of 5 dogs in line was totally our responsibility. Turns out dog mushing is much harder than I thought! You’re either the musher or the passenger; when you’re the passenger it’s cruisy; sit back, relax and try not to freeze to death. When you’re the musher it’s one hell of a workout. I’m going to give you a run down of what happens in each position as Ryan and I took turns acting as the passenger and the musher.
This is the most important position. The life of yourself, your passenger and the dogs is completely in your hands. The dogs are super fit and love to run but they still need some help as the sled is heavy and there are some steep hills. When the dogs are going uphill the musher jumps off the sled and runs up the hill pushing the sled to assist the dogs. If you feel like your passengers holding you back you yell at them to get out and you push the sled up the hill without them. This is a fantastic way to keep warm in the freezing temperatures.
When going downhill the musher’s in charge of the brakes and this is incredibly important! If you fail to brake there’s a chance the sled will pick up speed and run into the dogs in front. This is the last thing you would ever want to happen!
I found I took to mushing like a dream. I’ve even considered a change of career since my exceptional display of skills on our dog sledding adventure. Ryan on the other, Ryan tried to wipe the lot of us out! Let me set the scene, Ryan was mushing, I was the passenger and the dogs were running happily in front of us. We came around a sharp corner and started heading down a hill. I remember thinking to myself that we were going faster than we had down any other hill. Our guide was waiting at the bottom of the hill and our dogs came to a stop as did our sled, thankfully. I looked behind me to see why we’d been going so fast and to my surprise there was no sign of Ryan. As I looked further back I spotted him face down in a deep snow bank. Turns out when we came around the corner he’d been thrown off the sled; leaving the dogs and I heading down the hill without any brakes. Disclaimer: No dogs or Ryan’s were harmed in this incident
The passengers job is straight forward. Keep your arms and legs in the sled at all times and try not to freeze. This is much easier said than done when you’re dealing with temperatures close to -10°C! The fluffy blanket and hot chocolate break is essential! As is dressing in the right gear. Thermal layers and good quality snow gear is a must, a balaclava probably wouldn’t go astray either!
Dog sledding was a much bigger challenge than we anticipated but damn, it was fun! So much fun I’d consider moving into a wooden hut in the wilderness and mushing dogs for a living. I’m not sure I’d survive the cold so I probably won’t be doing that any time soon! But I’d love to give dogsledding another go, maybe in Greenland or Russia!
Want more Canada? Read about more of my Canadian adventures here.