WinterFun 101

The Pull of a Dogsled Vacation

The northwoods wilderness is famous as a winter wonderland, but the snow season activity that makes this region most unique is dogsledding.  It’s been a big part of our heritage for hundreds of years and today northeastern Minnesota has more dogsled tourism than any place in the world.  Unlike skiing, snowshoeing or snowmobiling, guided dogsled trips require no special skills or fitness.  Plus dogsledding is suitable for all ages -– from 8 to 80 and beyond! Outfitters throughout the area offer lodge-based dogsled vacation packages, dogsled camping adventures, dogsled ice-fishing excursions with heated wall tents, and dogsled day or half-day trips. 

by Paul Schurke

The snow-draped scenery is stunning, but it’s the sled dogs that steal the show every time — they’re friendly, strikingly handsome and they absolutely love to pull.  If you ever had any doubts about that, just wait till your guides harness up your team.  The energy that fills the air of anxious, tugging dogs is absolutely captivating.  And once your sled is launched and you are gliding along silently through the winter woods, it’s pure poetry.

Recreational dogsledding offers a much more leisurely, relaxed sledding experience than the ‘white-knuckle’ ride often associated with dogsled racing.  Recreational sled dogs generally pull at an average pace of four to five miles per hour, making it possible for novice drivers to enjoy the scenery without feeling like they’re hanging on for dear life. Plus most recreational sleds are extra wide and stable, and are specially designed for guests to stand comfortably and balance themselves by holding on to a handlebar.

The physical demands of dogsledding are similar to those of bicycling. On flat trails that cross frozen lakes little effort is required. On woodland trails, the drivers shift their weight slightly to balance the sled as they negotiate bumps, dips and turns. On uphill stretches and around tight corners, the drivers may need to assist their dogteams by doing an occasional “peddle kick” off the back of the platform on which they are standing, or stepping off the sled momentarily to maneuver it.

Throughout your dogsled excursion, there will be frequent scenic stops for photos, snacks and beverages during which you’ll have a chance to pet and get to know your dogs.  One of the most gratifying things about dogsledding is that the more you connect and communicate with your dog team, the better they respond and perform for you.  Plus most dogsled outfitters offer guests the opportunity to assist with harnessing, care and feeding of the dogs.  And if there happens to be some pudgy fur-ball puppies around to play with, well, you may never want to leave the kennel!

Having been an arctic dogsled adventurer and dogsled outfitter myself for over 30 years, I couldn’t agree more with Greenland explorer Knud Rasmussen’s famous quotation, “Give me winter, give me dogs … and you can keep the rest.”