Sunday, March 1, 2015

Dog Sledding in the Canadian Rockies


For my husband's 35th birthday, I was out of gift ideas. We are planning for baby #2 (already - who knew we were so fertile!) and so have been downsizing and minimizing like crazy to make room for a second nursery. Peanut is only 13 months, so the two babes will be 18 months apart, and that means lots of baby items, toys, and messes. My office has now completely disappeared, and my husband's office now doubles as a spare room. Boxes of books, trinkets, clothes, and much more have been carted out our front door to various destinations, just as long as they are not in our house.

So the last thing I wanted to buy Joey for his birthday was more STUFF. What I did buy was a fun family experience that Joey and I enjoyed (but maybe not baby Peanut so much): we went dog sledding in the wintery Canadian Rocky Mountains near Canmore, Alberta.  What a cool and exciting day we had!

My birthday gift to my husband - a family adventure of dog sledding in the Canadian Rockies!

I booked our morning tour with Snowy Owl Dog Sledding Tours, which was a very professional company that is run by third generation 'mushers' - it was begun in 1981 and is still being family run by the original owners' grandson and his family. There are 120 dogs and they are all very well cared for and seemed to genuinely love what they do. I was very happy with the quality of the company. The tour itself was a bit pricey, but in the end, very worth it if I may say.

The beautiful scenery around Spray Lake in Canmore, Alberta.

We arrived in Canmore early in the morning at 8:15 after driving over an hour from Calgary (we stayed with Joey's parents the night before to avoid renting a hotel room). We gathered at the Snowy Owl headquarters in downtown Canmore before boarding shuttle buses, where we were driven out to Spray Lake in the middle of the Rockies. It was a steep drive up a mountainside, but the views were lovely and the landscape covered in fresh white snow that had just fallen that morning.

Sledding across the frozen surface of Spray Lake

Once we arrived at Spray Lake, we immediately saw the excited dog teams tethered to their sleds, lined up along a trail and super ready to roll. They were yipping and barking, but in a friendly way. Most wanted to be petted before taking off, although a few were a little more shy (those ones had red bandannas to indicate they didn't like pets or were wary of strangers).  Avy was able to pet a few, but eventually all the barking and conversing between the 110 dogs became too much for her, and she started to cry (and then didn't really stop the rest of the way).

Petting the sled dogs before we begin our sledding journey

With 14 dog teams consisting of 8 to 7 dogs each, there was a lot of commotion to begin with, and several people sledding with us. We had an initial safety and information talk with our host, who not only taught us the proper terminology for dog sledding, but also how to guide a dog sled. Several sledders were riding without a guide or instructor as part of their purchase package, and some of us, including Joey and I, were riding a sled in tandem with an instructor. Joey was in charge of driving the sled, since I was six months pregnant at the time and not inclined to run with dogs up the steep hills.

Let me reiterate some of the dog sledding rules we learned that day. The most important rule of dog sledding is DON'T LET GO! Always have at least one hand on the sled, or the dogs will notice you not hanging on and take off. Before you are even aware of what is happening, you will be flying butt-down into the snow and the dog and sled (and your passengers) will be 14 feet ahead of you without any sign of slowing down. That scenario alone made me willing to give up the reins to Joey for the duration of the trip. I wanted nothing to do with crashing Avy into a tree in the middle of the mountain wilderness! Other rules included stopping whenever a dog needed to use the washroom, mainly for the comfort and dignity of the dogs, but also to prevent having your passengers sprayed with... well, you know. When going uphill, help the dogs to pull the sled by getting off the steps and running along behind the sled to lighten the load. Always encourage the dogs with a hearty, "Good doggies!" loud enough for them to actually hear you and be encouraged.  And once again, don't ever let go without having the sled tied down first.

Getting some important dog sledding lessons from our group leader

With those wise words of wisdom, we were off. Avy and I were bundled into the sled and tucked into some warm blankets, and Joey and our guide took to the sled steps. We were third in line out of the 14 sleds, so we got to experience the snow in its mostly fresh state. The dogs showed boundless energy and were happy to be out running - the day was -7 and almost too warm for them our guide explained. We stopped a few times for some puppy potty breaks, and I was able to enjoy the snowy scenery of Spray Lake. Avy enjoyed crying (she usually likes dogs, but she was just very 'off'' this day).

Dog sledding in the amazing Canadian Rockies near Canmore, Alberta

At one point, we were going down a pretty steep run when one of the dogs needed to go #2. Due to our momentum and speed, we were unable to stop to allow him a dignified poo, and Avy and I got to witness it first-hand! Oh well.  At least it hit the snow and not us.

We crossed a portion of Spray Lake, swishing across the snow-covered ice silently. That was my favorite part, as the view was incredible and the hushed sound of us riding the snow quite peaceful. The breeze was very cold blowing across the open lake, though, and Avy voiced her displeasure. We had her bundled up very well, but she is a lot like her momma and not really a winter fan.

Our "in action" shot from the Snowy Owl Dog Sledding Company

After our adventure, we gathered around a picnic area which had a roaring fire blazing, and drank hot apple cider and ate brownies that the dog sledding company provided for us. They provided a couple of professional shots for sale. I bought one even though they were a little expensive, since all my shots were from within the sled and we didn't have a group 'in action' photo.

Banff Upper Hot Springs in winter time

To warm up after our winter adventure, we drove into Banff and soaked for about an hour and a half in the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Avy is definitely a water baby and had a lot more fun in the water than in the sled! We have been to the hot springs in both summer and winter, and both seasons offer spectacular and unique views of the mountains.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,
    Amazing post along with best ever pictures...These pictures explaining a lot regarding dog sledding...Its looking quite thrilling.......
    dog sledding

    ReplyDelete