“Yip, yip, yip!” barked the dogs, anxious to be running. I couldn’t tell why we were stopped–half a dozen dogsleds were in front of me, each driven by a different musher, some of them for the first time. My friend, Neilia, mushing her own sled ahead of me, turned back to wave.
Beside the narrow trail, snow piled up in lumpy mounds higher than the dog’s heads. From where I nestled low in the basket of the dogsled I was a passenger in, all I could see was a tunnel full of wooden sled runners and dogs’ feet below the towering pines!
In a few seconds we were on the move again, the dog teams running in rhythm over the trail at Duchesney, Quebec, just outside Quebec City, where we were dogsledding with Aventure Inukshuk.
- People have used dogsleds in the northern regions of North America and other Arctic regions for at least 4000 years–the Thule Inuit migrated into Arctic Canada about 1000 AD.
- Dogsledding was of key importance in the development of the fur trade across Canada.
- Mushing sled dogs is the official Alaska state sport and the Alaskan Malamute sled dog is the official state dog.
- The North-West Mounted Police (later became the RCMP or Royal Canadian Mounted Police) used sled dogs to patrol the Yukon beginning in 1894.
- There are three main types of dogsled racing: Nordic, Dryland, and Nome.
- Dog sled sports are often called “mushing,” with the sled driver being the musher.
- Dogsled racing events are held from Wyoming (Wyoming Stage Stop Race), through Alaska (Iditarod), to Norway (Finnmarksløpet) and Spain (Pirena).
Quebec is the perfect place for a dog sledding adventure. The year I visited Quebec had over 400 inches of snow, providing plenty for the sleds! There were lots of trees around Duchesney, so even though it was a chilly afternoon when we went out, we were protected from the wind as we sped through the bush on the trails.
At Aventure Inukshuk, dogsledders have their choice of riding in the basket (shown left) or standing on the back of the basket on the runners and mushing the team themselves. Since we had a large group, some of us paired up and took turns between riding and driving. I started off in the basket, then gave my partner, Bill, a chance to sit back and relax on the way back.
Driving the dogs is actually a misnomer, since there’s nothing to drive with but your voice–luckily, I have a loud one! There aren’t any reins like I’d grown up using with a team of horses, although the word commands are the same ones I’d learned way back on the farm for the horses pulling the hayrack with feed for the cattle.
The main commands are: “Whoa” (stop–the most important one to learn!), “easy” (slow down), “gee” (head right), “haw” (turn left). I didn’t find it necessary to tell the dogs when to go, as the minute the brake (a small device on the sleigh basket that tips down into the packed snow) eases off they’re gone! But, should you ever need to know, “Hike,” is the command to get going and “hike, hike,” for a little more speed.
If you’d like to get a feel for dog sledding, this YouTube video of a ride at Aventure Inukshuk takes you along the trail for around a minute:
Dog teams consist of from six to twelve dogs, with most dog sled tours using six dogs. Just like the harness for a team of horses, there’s a center line that connects to the harness of each dog, which in turn connects to the sleigh to pull it. Different types of dogs are used to pull the sleds, with Huskies still being some of the favorite–Aventure Inukshuk has over 100 huskies that visitors can pet and visit with during their dogsledding orientation.
The sport of dogsledding, I discovered, is growing in popularity as 21st century explorers find new types of ecotourism that let us get out and enjoy winter.
Since I’ve been a snowmobiler for 40 years or so, I found dogsledding a very different way to travel over the winter snow! The pace of the dogs–compared to the speed of modern snowmobiles–gave me a lot more time to relax and take in the scenery, which in Quebec was a ton of pure white snow compared to the scanty fall of wind-blown stuff that I snowmobile over on the prairies.
Even with half a dozen dog teams all making their way down the same trail, skis swooshing over the snow, feet tramping on the path, it seemed quiet, a time to relax and well, if not smell the roses, at least take deep breaths of the pine scented air.
Indeed, I’d have to say it was the tranquility and beauty of the scenery on my dog sledding adventure in Quebec that makes it spot #15 on my Staycation tour of places I’ve previously visited. Driving the dogs was also a big part of the adventure, as it let me experience one of the first forms of traditional winter travel–which, with the well trained dogs at Aventure Inukshuk felt like I’d been doing it for years!
- Aventure Inukshuk – http://www.aventureinukshuk.qc.ca/en/
- Quebec City, Quebec, Tourism – http://www.quebecregion.com/en
- Quebec Carnival Dogsled Racing – http://guide2travel.ca/2009/08/quebec-carnival-dogsled-racing/