(!new: video below!)
We are at Svalbard Villmarkssenter, surrounded by lying dogs, barking dogs and excited dogs. As you can probably guess, we had booked a dogsledding tour. Another way to explore the arctic region, less noisy than snow mobiles. At least, when the dogs are running. As soon as we approach the kennels, we heard the dogs barking ready for some action. Suddenly we understood very clearly why the kennels are just outside the city center. The dogs also act as watch dogs: when a polar bear nears the dogs start howling.
Most of the dogs in this kennel are a mix between the Groenland dog and husky. The owners breed and raise them to become the next leader of a dogsledding-pack. The leader of my pack was a she-dog accompanied by her daughter, a lead dog apprentice. The youngest dog that morning was only 9 months old. They are very sweet and cuddly towards humans but act like wolfs amongst each other, ready to kill the weakest link (or possibly the leader, as our guide told so).
As soon as the dogs notice the moment of departure is getting closer, they become overjoyed. The barking increases and they go crazy. They are yanking the collars. There’s only one thing on the world they want: running through the snow, as fast as they can. We help the dogs getting leashed and harnessed and we really feel the power of our engine.
Ready? Set? Go!
It is not that easy to describe the whole sensation of dog sledding. Once the dogs set out the barking ceases and a total silence befalls you. There’s you, the dogs running in the snow, and the sound of the sled crushing the snow. I had expected a more violent ride, with a lot of bumps. On the first part of the trip I was passenger, gliding smoothly, barely centimeters from the ground. Later on, I took over the driving and I was standing on the back of the sled. It was not that difficult to control and steer the whole pack of dogs (ok, I have to admit that I was in the first sled with the guide who was giving the orders), but it felt quite intuitive. And exciting: it is very impressive to see how much power these dogs can unleash when you’re dashing through the snow behind them.
A little break in the deep snow,
Back in the kennel. Exhausted,
We finish our dog sledding initiation with some home made cake and tea, coffee or blackcurrant. The ideal après-sledding :).
The map of today