After three months of travelling around Canada, I’ve been snowboarding, I’ve tasted a Caesar, I’ve watched a hockey game and I’ve eaten my fair share of poutine. And now, to round off this epic adventure, it’s time to go dog sledding.
Picture this: you’re in the middle of the Canadian Rockies where there’s incredible towering cliffs and rock faces everywhere you look. You’re winding your way up a valley road passing frozen lakes and enchanting pine forests. Mother Nature’s dumped her gifts over night and today everything is caked in flawless white fresh snow. With bright blue skies added to the mix, it’s perfect.
You round the last corner and step out to be greeted by the cutest, fluffiest and most excitable new BFFs you’ll ever have. Welcome to your dog sledding adventure.
This is what greeted me when I stepped out of the vehicle. My new dog besties will be my ‘gang’ and they’ll pull me and my sled along the tracks for the next two hours. We’re going to travel through beautiful forests to the frozen lake where I’m told we’ll break for hot chocolate and cookies before heading back. I can’t wait!
My guide, equally as excitable, cute and fluffy with an impressive beard, is Jesse. Jesse tells me he’s been living in Canada for three years but is originally from Australia and grew up on a sheep farm. Jesse says he’s been working with animals and dogs for as long as he can remember. ‘Do you want to meet the team?’ Jesse asks me. ‘Hell yeah!’ I reply.
Closest to the sled, in the ‘wheel’ position are Anchorage and Vodka: the powerhouses of the gang. Next down the line in the ‘team’ position is playful Aurora. Past her, with the most amazing blue eyes, is Stymie at the ‘point position’. Finally, in the ‘lead’ position is Tundra who is relatively new to the top job. On her right is the calm Violet, the veteran of the group.
After many doggie pats and instinctively saying ‘who’s a good boy’, I climb into the sled and Jesse lets out a big ‘Let’s go!’
The gang reacts instantly, the line pulls tight and in one swoop the sled takes off. ‘Yeewwww!’ I yell uncontrollably. It’s finally happening, I’m dog sledding in Canada!
I reach for my camera eagerly and start snapping away. I love every minute and am amazed at how gracefully and effortlessly the gang pull me along. My new four-legged friends are clearly also having the best time.
I look up around me, taking in my surroundings and it hits me how stunningly beautiful this place is. It’s peaceful and nearly silent. Travelling past pine branches covered in fresh snow as humbling mountain tops pierce intermittently through the tops of the trees. I imagine myself in Narnia or on a movie set north of the wall where I’ll bump into Jon Snow any minute now.
I’m brought back to reality when Jesse asks: ‘You want to jump on the back with me and have a go at driving the sled?’ I didn’t even reply. I couldn’t get out of my seat quickly enough. Perched to the left of Jesse with both hands firmly on the handle bar I take charge and yell, ‘Gang, let’s go!’
With a gentle jolt, we take off again. As we move along with the fresh mountain air on my face, Jesse explains the history and intricacies of the dog sledding operation. Around 150 dogs are in the pack. Many are adopted and are in training. The working dogs are rotated each day so they get plenty of time off to just be dogs while getting good exercise when out sledding.
We soon arrive at our halfway point, the frozen-over Spray Lake. Thankfully, there’s still some blue sky above us and the temperature isn’t too cold. A short walk leads us to the lake’s edge. The scenery is unbelievable. I can see five orange tents at the far end of the frozen lake. ‘Ice fishermen,’ Jesse tells me. ‘That might have to be my next Canadian winter adventure,’ I reply.
After many, many photos and a well-deserved cup of hot chocolate and a cookie (or three), we saddled up again and I steered us all the way back along the track to our starting point. The fact that you can’t hear any motor vehicles creates a peacefulness and sense of freedom that’s so hard to explain. But it makes dog sledding one of my favourite adventures to date in Canada.
Upon our return, I’m delegated as chief doggie treat administrator – a role I take on with great pride and responsibility and one that leaves me with a big smile on my face (as well as dog-slobbery hands).
The dogs and staff here were wonderful and I really loved the whole experience. The staff kindly gave me a photo from the tour: Jesse and I on the back of the sled, wind running through his beard and our gang striding out in front, tongues hanging from those smiling doggie faces.
Reluctantly, I shake hands (and paws) goodbye and I’m shuttled off from one of the most unique and enjoyable Canadian winter experiences I think you could ever have.
Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, with parents from Scotland and South Africa, Alan has always been interested in seeing the big wide world. After completing his history degree, Alan said ‘catch you later’ and took off to Europe, where he stumbled upon Topdeck. After doing a festival trip with Topdeck he flipped sides to become a Trip Leader and has been enjoying the work and travel opportunities ever since. Follow Alan @adventureforalan