By Tanya Koob
My family recently had the incredible opportunity to go dog sledding outside the mountain town of Canmore. Going on a sled tour had long been on my dream list and I was full of questions about doing it as a family:
- What does it feel like to ride in a dog sled?
- Do you get to drive? Do you have to drive?
- How hard is it to drive your own team and can anybody really do it?
- Is it safe for kids? Do the sleds ever tip?
- Do you get cold?
- How many people can you fit in a sled?
We signed up for a short two hour tour that included transportation to the trailhead, a 30 minute introduction to the sport of mushing with a tutorial on how to drive a sled, a 45 minute ride, and then a bonfire at the end with snacks. Add plenty of time to cuddle the dogs, and it was a neat and tidy half day family outing in the mountains.
So what does it feel like to ride in a dog sled? Imagine the best roller-coaster ride that takes off and pins your head to the back of the seat. Kind of like that. There’s a lot of power when a team of 6-8 dogs takes off running – and you go flying. It was an exhilarating thrill ride as we skipped over bumps and flew across meadows and ponds. My five year old was un-phased though and showed no fear. Meaning, it probably wasn’t all that scary. Just a whole pile of fun!!
Do you get to drive? Yes, you receive all of the instruction you need to know so that you can direct your dogs (easily done with a couple of simple commands,) brake, and keep the team on the trail. The trickiest part is actually making sure you stop in time to avoid hitting the sled in front of you. Aside from that though, the dogs pretty much knew what they were doing and they’d look back at you if you were completely flubbing it up. (For example, if you forgot to jump off on a hill and weren’t running with the sled.)
Do you have to drive? No. You can choose to ride if you want. The sled is very comfortable and it’s easy to get cozy under your wool blanket and decide to stay resting throughout the whole ride. I chose to ride with my son while my husband drove the team. It worked well for us but I do regret now that I didn’t change places with him at the half way point. How often after all do you get the chance to drive a team of dogs?
There are many different arrangements that can be configured for your tour so that you can take turns riding and driving. The sleds hold up to three adults so you can have both parents on the back driving together with the kids riding in the sled. Alternatively, you can put an older child on the back driving with a parent while the other parent rides in the sled with the younger child. However you do it though, somebody has to drive.
Finally, how safe is dog sledding and do those sleds ever tip? Well, I’m sure they do tip on occasion, but none did on our tour. Our ride felt very safe and I never thought I was in danger. I trusted the guides and the dogs completely. Going for a tourist ride is not the same thing as joining a race as a professional musher and the terrain for our ride was very gentle. It was a perfect beginner ride and excellent for the whole family.
Tips for Choosing your own Dog Sled Tour:
Not all sled tours are equal and it’s important to do some research before you book with the first company you find. We chose to go with Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours in Canmore because of their reputation. The company won a certificate of excellence in both 2012 and 2013 with Trip Advisor and holds a 5 star rating. Snowy Owl is also rated one of the top 5 dog sledding companies in North America and has held their position as the #1 experience in Canmore for the last 2 years. Those are numbers I can trust.
We also chose Snowy Owl because of their ethical practices and the way they treat their dogs. The company website states that “there are no rules or regulations ensuring ethical dog care and proper kennel management in the sport of dog sledding.” Snowy Owl ensures however that their dogs are treated with the very best care, and nothing is kept secret from the public. Just visit the “A Dog’s Life” tab on the company website to find out what their dogs eat, how they are treated, where they sleep, or even how they are bred.
Other Factors to Consider when Choosing a Tour:
• Is there a minimum age requirement?
• How many people can the company’s sleds hold and will the whole family be riding together?
• Scenery! It would be hard to find a better location than the Spray Lakes near Canmore for your tour in the Rockies.
• Is there a professional photographer on site? It’s very hard to get a family photo of your ride in action without a photographer present to document your day. Snowy Owl had one posed at the beginning and end of our trip and he captured great photos for us.
• Will you get to interact with the dogs? As you can see from my photo, my son was able to throw himself on our dogs, to hug them, and get very friendly with them. We were showered with kisses from our dogs throughout the whole tour and I can’t imagine going on a tour where you had to keep your distance from the dogs.
A final note: Dress warmly! It can get very chilly standing around waiting for your tour to depart and the training session feels long when it’s cold outside. I recommend wearing many layers of clothing and the best boots you’ve got. Our company rented boots for those without warm footwear.
For more information on the tour that we did, visit the Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours website
About Tanya Koob:.
Tanya lives in Calgary with her spunky little boy and awesome husband. Her family makes the most of living on the cusp of the amazing Rocky Mountains by camping, hiking, paddling and more as much as they can, often with that spunky little guy leading the charge. You can keep up with their journeys at Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies