The team is off and running!
I've always wanted to go dog-sledding. Since the days when my family lived in Edmonton, northern Alberta, and the annual Muk-luk Mardis Gras took place, I became keenly interesting in the dog teams that were brought down from the north country to participate in the dog-sled races. We had a dog of our own at the time, a part Samoyed/Lab named Chinook who loved pulling the kids around on a home-made sled. My husband made a proper racing sled for Chinook, we bought a harness, and my son, Steven, (at the time age about 10) entered her in the races. Chinook would have won, too, except that the kid on the sled behind her stepped on the back of my son's sled, thereby slowing it down so he could get ahead and win.
I'm a dog-lover anyway, and fascinated by these sturdy dogs that work pulling the sleds, racing in the annual northern races and are used as 'working dogs' by the Inuits and northern people. So when I discovered they had dog-sled rides at the Sun Peaks Resort where I was planning to visit, I was quite excited at the prospects. It was expensive though - a lot out of my budget - but I lucked out. Thanks to the Sun Peaks Tourism and the editor of Planet Eye, the on-line travel magazine that I write for, I was able to get an assignment for my 4 day stay on the mountain. And the Sun Peaks Tourism gal, Melanie, was generous enough to include the dog-sled ride.
Chris Schwanke and Taryn Rixon and one of their 50 sled dogs.
I was transported by mini-bus from the Sun Peaks Village to the road that leads to the Mountain Man Adventures kennels. From a distance I heard the howling and yelping of the dogs, that grew louder as I trudged down the snowy road. When I reached the kennels, I was greeted by Taryn, one of the new owners of the pack of sled dogs. She took around to introduce me to her team members. Each dog has it's own kennel with plenty of running room.
"Far enough that they can't fight or breed with each other," she explained.
Taryn and her partner Chris have experience with dogs and it's clear to see how much they love their teams. Both of them are from Saskatchewan so they're used to these snowy conditions on the mountain. Chris started out dog sledding in Canmore Alberta and has 10 years experience. Taryn quit her city job to join him at Sun Peaks running the Mountain Man Adventures. As she introduces me to the dogs, she tells me a little about them and a personal anecdote about the dog. All the dogs are cross-breeds: Malamutes, Alaskan Huskies, Greyhounds and other breeds. They live on-site along with the dogs. Some of the elder dogs who are retired from active work often sleep indoors with the owners.
Taryn chooses the six dogs who will pull the sled. The others yap and howl in anticipation as if to say "Pick me! Pick me!" She chooses Loki, a grizzled veteran and experienced dog-sled racer. He is paired with handsome blue-eyed Rodeo, who Taryn tells me is one of the pack's most promising mutts. A tawny pair, Comet and LJ take the middle positions, and in the "wheel" position at the back are two of the strongest dogs, ginger-colored Jackson and Lima who looks like he might have some German shepherd genes.
"We put the largest dogs in the rear, because they pull most of the weight when the sled goes uphill," Taryn explains.
I'm given the privilege of helping her harness the dogs, a fairly simple task as they are co-operative and lift their legs automatically to slip them through the harness loops. Once the team is ready, I settle myself comfortably on the cushions in the sled with a warm blanket to cuddle under.
"Okay, boys! Let's go!" Taryn shouts. And we're off, the dogs running at full speed, yapping happily with excitement.
We hurtle down the narrow road past some cross-country skiers, then turn into the woods on a narrow pathway hedged with high snow drifts. Mid-way the team stops to rest and have a biscuit treat. I get off the sled to investigate some interesting tracks Taryn has pointed out left by a snow-shoe hare, something I've never seen before. She asks if I'd like to be the 'musher' for awhile, but I decline and settle back down on the comfy cushions. I wish now that I'd not been such a sissy and taken that opportunity.
"Let's go!" Taryn shouts. And the team is off again, racing down the curves and up over the small hilly mounts of packed snow.
Back at the kennels I help Taryn feed the dogs their treat: big hunks of fatty meat donated by a local butcher. Later they'll be given a special meal, their reward for all that hard work!
It was an exhilarating adventure and one I'll not soon forget. One thing that impressed me so much was the care and affection that Chris and Taryn give to their dogs. An unfortunate incident at the Whistler Outdoor Adventure Tours recently has made world-wide news, sullying the name of dog sledding, because that operation was neglectful and cruel in their methods of culling their animals. But not all dog sled operations are like that, and Mountain Main Adventures is one example of how knowledgeable owners provide caring attention to their dogs.
I'd recommend everyone put dog-sled riding on their 'bucket list'. It was truly one of the highlights of my winter vacation and one I'd love to repeat some time!