A wild ride behind a pack of howling dogs? It’s easier to master than you might think.
By Krisan Christensen
Huskies sang out with deafening eagerness as my guide pointed and barked instructions: Step here to slow down; step here and here to stop. Lean left to go right; lean right to go left.
The mid-winter darkness blinded me to everything outside the scanty beam of my headlamp, but I could feel the frenzied commotion and animal confusion surrounding me. Before I knew it, we were lurching forward, my sled teetering past an icy gate. The death-grip I had on the sled was hidden by my gloves, and the only indicator of my body’s heightened sense of alert was a quickened release of frozen breath from beneath a mound of layered wool and goose down.
Before snowmobiles and airplanes, dogs pulled people and their cargo across the Arctic’s frozen surfaces. But in recent years, dog sledding has gained recognition and traction as both a competitive and commercial sport. Heroic stories from the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race have increased interest in single- and multi-day adventure tourism excursions, as has the success of women sled dog drivers, or mushers.
“The biggest frustration as a woman, honestly,” says mushing veteren Kirsten Frisch, “is staying warm.” But that frustration wasn’t enough to stop the likes of Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the 1,200-mile Alaskan Iditarod; Susan Butcher, four-time Iditarod winner and the top-ten female finisher; and DeeDee Jonrowe, who has fourteen top-10 Iditarod finishes and has helped carve a niche for women in the sport.
My dog tour was just a few hours but after a few bounces at take-off, my sled settled down and I gained control. I eased quickly into the smooth ride, gently leaning against the curves and giving in to the power and experience of the eight-dog team out front.