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On the trail and behind the reins of a pack of snowy Canadian Inuit dogs

By Katie Morell
 

Northern Minnesota’s vast wilderness stretches on for hundreds of miles. Within its pristine and untouched spaces are only the sounds of birds, tree branches rustling in the wind and the footsteps of animals. Among this stark and beautiful backdrop, just 20 miles south of the Canada border, sits Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, a haven for wintertime adventure junkies of all ages and activity levels.

“Anyone can go dog sledding, from toddlers to adults in their nineties,” says Paul Schurke, co-owner of the lodge, located in Ely, Minnesota. “It’s a wilderness recreation option that everyone finds enjoyable and accommodating.”

Learning the Commands

Before jumping on board, Schurke and his staff put “mushers” (a.k.a. sled drivers) through a training program on how to control the sled and six dogs in front (Wintergreen has 66 Canadian Inuit dogs on staff). Once trained, mushers help strap in each dog and get into position at the back of the sled. When they’re ready to go, they hold tight to the reins and yell, “Ready, hike!” It’s a strong, smooth ride—if not quite the power of, say, a Chevy Tahoe.

If the musher wants to turn left, he/she will yell “Gee!” to the dogs. If they want to go right, they will yell “Haw!” But what about if they want to stop?

“Each sled has a brake that sends spikes into the snow,” says Schurke, an accomplished musher who, in 1986, went on a two-month dog-sled excursion to the North Pole and was featured on the cover of National Geographic. “The dogs will respond to the brake. It is very effective.”

Getting to Know Fido

Animal lovers may wonder: Do sled dogs like to run or does it feel like punishment for them? Schurke is quick with an answer.

“These dogs love to pull. It is an instinct. They are draft animals, just like draft horses; they are wired to work,” he says.

But unlike draft horses, Canadian Inuits are also friendly with humans. Each time a ride comes to an end, the dogs are personable and are fond of affection from mushers, making them nice companions for dog-sled enthusiasts.

Being One with Silence

Dog-sledding vacations are getting more and more popular, says Schurke, who has been running tours for more than 30 years. He attributes the attraction to the public’s love for dogs and, surprisingly, climate change.

“There is definitely something shifting out there; our season is getting shorter and the snowpack thinner, but those changes don’t affect us like other winter sports such as snowmobiling and skiing,” he says. “We just need a few inches on the ground to get up and moving.”

Once on the trail, tourists can expect absolute silence as they take in the breathtaking views of the snowy forest. For many, being one with nature is exactly what they are looking for.

Says Schurke, “People love to come up here, it is so peaceful and they have a lot of fun.”

Can’t get to Minnesota this winter? Fear not. There are plenty of other locations that offer dog-sledding tours. Here are a few.
 

Eden Dogsledding Adventures
Eden Mills, Vermont

Durango Dog Ranch
Durango, Colorado

Continental Divide Dog Sled Adventures
Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Alaska Icefield Expeditions
Juneau, Alaska

Main Dogsledding Adventures
Millinocket, Maine

Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures
Yellowstone National Park

Dogsled Treks
Pray, Montana

Wilderness Adventures Dog Slead Tours
Lake Tahoe, California

Paws for Adventure
Fairbanks, Alaska

The trademarks mentioned in this story are held by their respective owners.

This is the first in a series of sledding stories on Chevy Culture.

Katie Morell is a San Francisco-based writer and editor. She works from home with her favorite co-worker of all time, Lucy, a 4-year-old beagle.


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