There’s no getting around it—the Canadian winter is usually a good half year long in most of the country. That’s a lot of time, and while we might often be inclined to give in to the frigid temperatures and congregate around the warmth of our clunky radiators, cabin fever is going to set in sooner or later. Many of us have tried skating, snowshoeing, and tobogganing, but few have taken advantage of a certain winter activity that is tailor-made to be warm (well, in a way), fuzzy, and uplifting: dog sledding.
Harnessing dreams—and friendship
To find out more about dog sledding, we needed an expert. So we reached out to Carlin Kimble, who is the President of Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours in Canmore, Alberta, and the Vice President of the Canadian Coalition for Sled Dogs. Kimble’s parents founded the company over three decades ago—hence their slogan “Harnessing Dreams Since 1983,” nearly as adorable as the dogs that help run Snowy Owl—so she was born straight into the world of mushing (which is a word used for any sport or method of transport powered by dogs). And so was her son.
It’s a family affair at Snowy Owl, with Kimble’s brother, husband, and sister-in-law all working alongside her. She’s been driving sled dog teams since she was only four years old, guiding professionally since 2004, and her very favourite reason for being a musher is very simply the dogs. “They are the heart and soul of our experiences, and they are the real heroes,” Kimble says.
“The relationship I have with my pack is one that I wouldn’t change for the world,” she tells us. “My dogs are my family and there is a strong bond between us all, one developed over years of friendship and devotion. We’ve spent countless miles on the trail together and I can still remember holding each pack member in my hand when they were born. Unlike most [people], we get to live our lives with our dogs from the time they are born until their senior years. It is so incredibly special to spend our lives with these amazing husky heroes!”
The Dog Sledding Experience
So what happens on a sled dog tour? Well, it may vary from company to company, but at Snowy Owl, all guests start their tour with a hands-on introduction and they’re each instructed on how to drive a dog team. Once everyone is good and comfortable, guests are given a sled and they hit the trail, with most guests driving their own team, following a professional instructor.
There’s a wide range of time for tours. If you just want to head out on a little jaunt, you can mush for a couple hours. But if you want to go on a real journey, there’s also the chance to extend the experience overnight. And every adventure is different. Some have a campfire lunch out on the trail, and others set you up with a nice, warm fire back at the headquarters with hot drinks and sweets. “There’s plenty of time to love, cuddle and take photos with our pack on all our tours as well,” Kimble says. She also notes that, beyond the breathtaking scenery, guests should expect to see, “happy, healthy, and ethically cared for sled dogs that are family, not just working dogs.”
Whatever adventure you choose, make sure to come ready.
“Guests should come prepared for winter!” Kimble says. “We see a lot of guests showing up in sneakers and jeans as if they are going dog sledding in an indoor arena or something. We take a lot of time providing our guests with the information they need to be prepared so they enjoy their experience. We recommend people dress for cold and snow.”
Genuine puppy love
We know that it’s tough to peel ourselves away from indoor heating and sally forth into a snowy wonderland, but a sled dog tour offers a real heartwarming reason, which is a whole different kind of warm than furnaces provide. It’s a way for people to participate in something authentic, Kimble says—something exciting and beautiful in one life-changing experience.
“To me, it’s the relationships with the dogs that really make our experience so special,” Kimble says. “Our dogs love people and have such a huge impact on our guests that it moves many of them to tears. There is no judgment—just love, compassion, and acceptance within a matter of seconds. It feels good to be loved and accepted, and I think that’s lacking in humanity now days. The dogs are not judging what we look like, what clothes we wear, or how much money we make. Their love is genuine, one of a kind. People can let their guard down and just be in the moment. For a little while, people feel free of life’s pressures.”
Where to go dog sledding
Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours is located in the beautiful Rocky Mountains in Canmore, Alberta, but you can get mushing all over the country.
If you’re heading way up north towards Hudson Bay, you can check out Wapusk Adventures in Churchill, Manitoba—also known as the polar bear capital of the world. And a few hours north of Saskatoon, you can head to Sundogs in the Waskesiu wilderness region.
In Quebec, there are a multitude of options, including The Activity Centre in Mont-Tremblant, Timberland Tours in Bristol (only 45 minutes from Ottawa-Gatineau), North East Stoneham Adventures, and L’Auberge du Lac Morency in Saint-Hippolyte.
And in the Maritimes, check out Sled Dog Adventures in Allardville, New Brunswick.