Dogsledding with a team of huskies brings a rush of winter excitement.
By Erin Deinzer
You might not be familiar with the names Togo and Balto, but undoubtedly you’re familiar with their accomplishments: In 1925, a fatal epidemic threatened the lives of children living in Nome, Alaska, and the only way to stop the impending doom was to send a team of dogsleds to deliver the diphtheria serum. The race to get the serum delivered on time spurred international interest in the mushers and their teams, and as a result of their success, lead dogs Togo and Balto became national heroes.
Almost a century later, Alaska still celebrates the accomplishments of the sled dogs (and their mushers) who saved a town from certain death. The Iditarod —held in Alaska since 1973 in honor of the lifesaving race—attracts participants and spectators by the thousands. But what’s a traveler to do if all he (or she) wants is to try dogsledding in a more relaxed, less-competitive environment?
In a variety of frozen North American settings, it’s possible to suit up in your best cold-weather gear and take to the snow with a team of dogs in the lead. So harness up your best “MUSH!” command, and head to where the huskies are.
DENALI, ALASKA — If your interest in dogsledding is more academic than hands-on, a great option is to pay a visit to Jeff King for his Husky Homestead Tour. King, who used to call California home, has won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race (the competition’s official name) four times. His 90-minute kennel tour begins with the chance to cuddle some newborn huskies before you’re introduced to some of the adult members of his team. There, a guide will describe how members of the King family and their crew exercise and care for the 75-plus dogs they own. Following that, Jeff King will show you the ins-and-outs of training and racing that’s made helped make him (and his teams) champions.
FAIRBANKS, ALASKA — Ready for some high-energy adventure that includes learning how to drive your own team? Paws for Adventure offers a three-hour, hands-on dog-mushing school at their location just outside Fairbanks. You’ll get one-on-one instruction from a professional guide (with plenty of time for practicing) in preparation for guiding your team of three-to-five dogs over varied trails. The 6-to-10 mile run takes you in a large loop over groomed trails through snow-covered meadows and open fields, surrounded by connecting Spruce forests. Except for those excited “Whoo’s!” as you glide over the snow, and the ushered vocal commands for the dogs, you’ll hear nothing but the enveloping sounds of silence.
NEWRY, MAINE—Professional guides Polly Mahoney and Kevin Slater have a handle on celebrity status; after all, not everyone has the chance to star in a Disney movie. But when the producers of the film “Never Cry Wolf” were looking for a team of dogs that could deliver on cue, they sought out Mahoney. A small family-run business, Mahoosuc Guide Service provides would-be mushers with the chance to try their hand at leading a team on weekend, overnight trips that provide you with an opportunity to camp out in the snow with the huskies and experience their behavior both on- and off-duty.
QUEBEC, CANADA—You don’t have to know how to speak French to take a ride with the Canadian members of a dogsledding team. A traditional method of transportation for the region’s indigenous population, dogsledding has been part of this frozen landscape for centuries. Teams of 4–8 dogs will take you “off the beaten path” outside the modern city of Quebec, where you’ll enjoy guided dogsledding. One spot to consider is Au Chalet en Bois Rond, located in Sainte-Christine-d’Auvergne (a recreational tourism complex). They offer an introductory package that includes a 90 minute dogsled ride (including time on the trail), stops for photo ops, puppy meet-and-greet, and chocolat chaud upon your return.
YUKON TERRITORY, CANADA—Located less than 30 minutes outside of Whitehorse on the shores of the Takhini River, the folks at Muktuk Adventures have raised, trained, and cared for dogs for more than 30 years. Originally started as a racing kennel, they now take in rescue dogs looking for a forever home. Dogsledding excursions include half- and full-day tours, or you can really immerse yourself in the adventure of a lifetime and sign up for a weeklong trip that’s either lodge-based, or includes winter camping. If you really want to learn how it might feel to be a part of an Iditarod team, this is the place for you.