Dog sledding in Finland is one of those exciting adventures many of us can only dream about. When we decided to make the dream a reality we weren’t quite sure what to expect. After dog sitting a couple of Siberian huskies in the heat of Queensland, Australia, we knew we loved the affectionate, playful breed. But weren’t quite prepared for their high-energy cousins in the sub-zero temperatures above the Arctic Circle.
The Alaskan Husky
THE American Kennel Club, which apparently is the arbiter of such things, does not recognise the Alaskan husky as a breed.
Which is a bit of an insult to the Alaskan husky, in my book. And, yes, I am aware that the Siberian husky is recognised … and probably far prettier, generally.
According to the website a-z-animals.com, there are many key differences between the husky cousins.
Siberian huskies are usually larger than Alaskan huskies, with longer coats and more variety of coat and eye colours.
Siberian huskies can be tan, black, white, red or bi-colored. Alaskan huskies come in solid black or solid white colours, a key distinction if you happened to be looking at a Siberian and an Alaskan side by side. A Siberian husky has slightly longer fur than an Alaskan. This is likely due to their relative size differences. However, both dogs have double fur coats to keep them warm in frigid temperatures.
And according to the American Kennel Club, Alaskan huskies are not pure-bred dogs, but Siberian huskies are.
That may be so, but the Alaskan husky is an athlete, as anyone who has been dogsledding in Finland or any of the Nordic countries can probably attest. They can certainly set up an impressive racket, even before you lay eyes on them. Before we left on our run, the dogs were active to the point of seeming agitated.
They barked, howled, tried to jump out of their harnesses and over each other and generally misbehaved. But this was merely their way of saying they were keen to get on the snow and have a good hit-out.
It’s what they’re born and bred to do, and they love it.
Dog sledding in Finland
We experienced this exhilarating pastime of dog sledding in Finland at Polar Lights Tours, above the Arctic Circle near Kittila. This family-owned company can take you on one or two-day husky safaris, costing up to 795Euros, or about $1225 Australian.
But we took the much quicker (and cheaper) route, an 8km round trip. It was booked as part of a bigger tour so we don’t know how exactly much we paid, but the Polar Lights Tours web site lists it at 130-215Euros ($200-$330 Australian) for individual customers.
Obviously it would be best to book, but if you just decide to roll up it’s unlikely they will have run out of huskies — the day we were there they had 106 of them, including some gorgeous puppies.
Dressing for the occasion
We had never been in sub-zero weather conditions for extended periods before, so obviously we were concerned about what we would wear.
I had a down-filled coat — a survivor of my regular winter visits to New York in a past life — and, with a puffy jacket and several base layers underneath, it more than sufficed. My partner Kirsty Carter had two “puffys” — a heavy coat and a sleeveless vest. Obviously, you also need heavy duty trousers, socks and boots, plus gloves and a beanie.
Even then, we were grateful that Polar Lights Tours provided thermal overalls, because it can get a little breezy sledding along through snow covered countryside.Handling the light, wooden sleds is easy. Once your passenger is seated comfortably in the front, you just climb on the back, placing one foot on each side and holding on to a cross beam with both hands. Between your feet there is a brake pedal, which pushes a metal plate into the snow to slow everyone up. When you are stationary, you keep one foot on the brake at all times.
Huskies doing the driving
We had five huskies in a two-one-two formation, and they did the steering for us. When you brake, the lead dogs, particularly, look around as if to question whether you really want to go slower, but they do it anyway.
We travelled in a single line behind our guide (no overtaking permitted) and it was recommended that we leave a 10 to 15-metre gap between our lead dogs and the back of the sled in front.
Afterwards, the dogs were happy to be patted and told what a great job they had done. And, of course, they always get rewarded with good food and a warm place to sleep.
We were taken to a semi warm hut where we were plied with the local favourite, warm lingonberry juice, and snacks before getting back on our mini-bus.