Since there are quite a number of kennels around these Arctic places which offer this kind of amusement, a good recommendation is of vital importance. If you decide to venture on something like this, we assume that just sitting on the sled is not how you imagine it to be. You want to be the master behind the wheel. You want to feel the adrenalin when you take your foot off the brake and start flying like a bird with nothing more to bank on than a five-minute ‘How to stay alive’ course. This is exactly what you want – take our word for it!
The people at our camp highly recommended that we should go for a family company Snowdog Arctic Adventure. Not only are these chaps funny and chatty, but they’re also amazing instructors and very thorough stylists when it comes to getting appropriately dressed for the occasion. They’re fantastic cooks and generous hosts too. There you have it! Without any exaggeration whatsoever! They’re not in a hurry to finish the ride even when the temperature drops below freezing point. They make awesome photos and take you to fantastic locations for observing the Northern Lights. Peter, our Arctic guru, is one of the coolest people we met in Sweden (possibly because he comes from Holland).
Let’s take it step by step. The first thing you should consider is proper clothing. Being fully and warmly dressed every day in wintertime is something that goes without saying. Warm underclothes, waterproof snowsuits and ski suits, winter hats, balaclavas, gloves, thick socks and a pair of warm long boots.
Now make it all double. Wear an Arctic coverall, three pairs of socks, two pairs of gloves and special boots. When you’re sitting on the sled (sometimes you have to let your partner ‘take the reins’), the wind is so strong that it literally cuts like a knife. You can forget about enjoyment if you freeze to death, so pay heed to what your instructors tell you to do. They do know what they’re talking about.
The kennels are usually on some hillside in the midst of the tundra. Even before you notice them, you’ll hear barking and almost wolf-like howling. Listen a part of it here.
The dogs will be waiting neatly lined in front of their kennels. This immediately made Igor feel at home. He even found a name tag with his own name on one of the kennel doors. His four-legged namesake started playfully wagging his tail the moment he saw him. It was love at first sight.
Mushers are actually extremely fond of dogs and they dedicate a great deal of their lives to caring about them, which is contrary to the popular belief that this practice represents a case of animal abuse and exploitation. A way of getting acquainted with the dogs before the ride is to give them a big cuddle. We were absolutely mesmerized by Woody – a nine-year-old veteran with the temper of a puppy. He’s as mad as a box of frogs and extremely jealous.
Don’t expect to see a pack of purebred blue-eyed huskies. The dogs that pull the sleds are a breed of huskies, malamutes, greyhounds and sheep dogs. They are totally different from one another, but the thing that binds them together is their cuddliness and an insatiable passion for running. If they have spent the day in the kennels, they’ll be poised for action in the evening, just waiting for the signal to start flying like eagles.
During the first year and a half, the only things that the puppies do are running and getting used to one another. The most obedient and docile dogs are chosen to be lead dogs.
They will take front position and steer the rest of the team when their time comes. They set the pace for the rest of the pack and are free to make a pit stop whenever they want. They’re in charge because they know the way. They make decisions. Six dogs are commonly used, but in sled dog racing, this number can exceed ten. They move at a speed of 15-25 km/h, but they can reach the speed of 30 km/h when they compete. Our ‘caravan’ had two sleds – one had six and the other one five dogs. This precautionary measure had to be taken just to make sure that our sled wasn’t moving at a higher speed, in which case we would have bumped into sled in front of us.
The training is short. You stand on the runners and you have two types of brakes – the one slows down and the other one stops the sled. Don’t loosen your grip. Keep the balance. Keep a safe distance between the sleds. And basically, that’s all there is to it. You’ll survive and have something to recount for the rest of your life.
There are day rides and night rides – both have certain advantages. If you choose the day ride, you can enjoy the surreal white landscape, whereas during the night you might be so lucky as to see aurora borealis. We chose to ride at night and didn’t regret it. The tundra we had seen during the day on snowmobiles looked much more powerful with flashlights attached to our winter hats. The dogs’ bums cheerfully wriggling before us! A crazy bumpy ride! The best rollercoaster ever!
If it should happen that the driver falls off the sled and they keep speeding out of control, the person sitting on the sled has to try to stop the pack, either by using their legs or carefully moving to the back to reach the brakes. When you get back to the kennels, give your dogs a treat – a cube of meaty protein bomb that they will ravenously devour. And then it’s your turn.
When you enter the warm log cabin, a delicious hot soup made from five types of Arctic mushrooms and warm pita bread will be waiting for you by the hearth. Our hosts were so amazing that we spent a long time chatting with them. We even got a cinnamon biscuit and some horrible Romanian brandy. A combination to die for!
All things considered, the price may sound a bit mind-blowing at first. But it really does pays off! Renting an Arctic coverall, the company of the dogs and a truly authentic meal with mushers are all included in the price.
This will definitely be an unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime experience that you will be recounting with a childlike grin on your face for years to come. The feeling is indescribable! Just go ahead – do not hesitate to try!
A couple of tips:
- As far as clothing is concerned, too much is never enough.
- Try to find gloves that will allow you to use a mobile phone or camera freely, otherwise you’ll get frostbite.