If there’s one thing I love more than anything, it’s dogs and mountains. So when a friend of mine mentioned that she had an extra spot to go with her on a dog sledding tour near Canmore, my heart instantly dropped. I said yes before she could even get the words out to invite me along.
I didn’t think it was possible to go dog sledding in April (we actually got the very last tour of the season). Dog sledding was a dream come true- huskies and mountains are just about my perfect combo. Sleep was limited the night before, we were too excited!
On the day of the tour, we met at Snowy Owl Dog Sled Tours in Canmore. We were pleasantly greeted by a vibrant bus driver who was excitably playing his saxophone, what a great start to the day! We got on our bus and we were driven up to the Spray Lakes West Campground area to meet our tour guides and the sled dogs.
Ferocious howling filled our ears as we made our way off of the bus and onto the trail where we were greeted by 50+ happy dogs- my kind of heaven. The dogs (for the purposes of this blog, dogs and puppies will be interchangeable) were lined up in teams of 6 and feeding off of each other’s energy. It was evident that the puppies knew it was almost time to start running!
The great thing about Snowy Owl Tours, compared to other dog sledding operators in the area, is that they are the only operator who will let you self drive your sled. What this means is that you and your partner actually get to take turns driving the sled rather than having a certified guide drive the sled for you.
Before we took off, we were given detailed instructions on how to drive our sled. Commands like “hike”, “easy”, “woah”, and “on by” were the keys to a smooth trip with these eager puppies. A little uneasy about navigating the sled, I asked my friend to take the first swing at it while I rode passenger.
Self Driving the Sled
Full speed ahead, we took off on the trail and raced down the snowy path. It felt like we were in a fairytale. We were surrounded by tall trees and breathtaking mountain peaks. Riding in the passenger seat was equally thrilling as it was slightly terrifying! It was obvious that the dogs were in their element. The puppies bolted like lightning down the hill section and scurried around each bend. There were a few bumps in the trail where I found myself flying a bit out of my seat which was kind of scary but mostly fun!
When we got onto a frozen lake, the halfway mark, it was time to switch positions. Driving a dog sled is unlike driving anything else. You have to keep two hands on the handle at all times and use the weight of your body to jump on the brakes. You have to maneuver your body to steer which requires you leaning into the direction you want the sled to turn. Driving quickly became intuitive as you can feel the whole sled driving process with your body. I truly did not want the tour to ever end.
We made it back to our starting point and the tour unfortunately came to a close. When the pups were back at their stations, we said goodbye to our new friends and headed to a campfire with the guides. We were given hot apple cider and some snacks while we waited to get picked up.
At the campfire we learned more about the dogs and Snowy Owl Tours. Some fun facts we learned include:
61 of Snowy Owl’s sled dogs were used for the Walt Disney movie, Togo
Hugo, one of the pups, played Togo’s stunt double
Many of the dogs can run up to 80-120 km per day but often they run 40 km per day
Dog Sledding Attire
It was -5 degrees Celsius while we were at Spray Lakes so we were instructed to dress as warmly as possible. I wore fleece lined leggings that doubled as both wind and water resistant pants. Additionally, I had my warm base layer top on and an insulated vest. I topped it all off with my parka. Additionally, I wore Sorel winter boots, a toque and my extremely warm Hestra gloves.
Anything colder than -5 degrees would’ve extremely cold on on the hands and face. I would recommend a BUFF neck tube or some kind of balaclava to shield your face from the cold. Ski goggles are worth bringing if it’s really cold!
Dog Sledding Controversy
To some, the concept of dog sledding can seem unethical. Although I am not an expert in this area, I did familiarize myself with Snowy Owl’s practices and came to my own conclusions. Snowy Owl tours are the most transparent about their practices. It’s obvious that the puppies are treated with love and respect. On their website, Snowy Owl provides critical information about red flags to look for in other dog sled tours. If you’re curious, check out the Sled Dog Welfare section of their site and you’ll see what I mean!
If you do choose to try dog sledding, educate yourself on the practices of the tour operator! Get referrals, do your homework, and most importantly have fun!