People of Tromsø were lucky to have a chance for a free dog sledding experience. On 17 April, Tromsø Villmarkssenter did an open day, starting with a free bus ride from the city center to their facility. The event included a short dog sled ride, cuddling dogs and puppies, free use of the lavvos (Sami tents) with open fire inside, and also outdoor bonfire where people can grill their own food. Utropia had a chance to speak with one of the staff, Sylvi, who explained everything about the dogs and the facility eloquently.
The panoramic bus ride
It was a chilly morning in the city center and the sky was a little bit cloudy but it was still a nice weather. The streets were almost empty, but dozens of people had been waiting at the Tromsø Prostneset bus stop. Exactly at 9 AM, a bus came and all of the people boarded the bus. It was obvious that these people were the participants of the open day, since the bus was provided by Tromø Villmarkssenter. The 30-minute bus ride felt short with the exquisite scenery along the road. The bus crossed the bridge connecting Tromsøya and Kvaløya, then moved along the coast of Kvaløya with the magnificent landscape of Tromsøya and Håkøya before it finally entered the wilderness center.
The call for attention
Once the participants arrived, all we could hear was the barking from the dogs. They were asking for attention, or more precisely, cuddling. Before they went to cuddle the dogs, a staff from the center did a short briefing about the facility and the following activities. Then it was time to cuddle the dogs. It was difficult to choose from 300 dogs which one to touch first, as all of the dogs jumped excitedly even though they were chained. The dogs were paired with duplex dog houses for each pair. The dogs definitely enjoyed their guests’ rubbing and patting, as they wagged their tails ecstatically. But that was not all. There was also a special enclosure for cuddling the puppies. This activity was particularly popular among children. According to Sylvi, it is also a perfect way to socialize the puppies, so they can get comfortable with human interaction from a very early age.
The sledding convoy
While the guests were having a great time with the dogs, some of the staffs were getting ready for the sledding. They started to fetch some of the dogs to form a team in front of each sled. A few moments later, the participants were already lining up for their turn to experience the dog sledding. And with little or no delay, all the guests were already sitting snugly in the sleds. The mushers (drivers) started to lift up the anchor that fastened the sled to the ground, and off we go! One sled started after another sled, making a long convoy, bursting through the stunning winter wonderland. We rode through the snow covered birch and pine forest of Kvaløya, passing a small stream, up and down the hill, with the wind on our faces. The ride was not as speedy as in movies, but it felt really safe. Moreover, the dogs seemed to be enjoying their exercise to the fullest. After a short 15 minute ride, the sleds then stopped right in front of a panoramic view of Håkøya and the islands surrounding it, ending the experience with a perfect chance for photo shoots.
Enjoying the lavvos and refreshments
The whole experience would not have been perfect without warm food and drink. After the ride, the participants helped themselves with either their own food or the ones from the facility. The center had a café and an open stall that sold cakes, hotdogs, bidos (reindeer stew), and hot drinks. The guests were free to shelter inside all of the lavvos, which were equipped with reindeer-skin-lined benches, an open fire with table and sitting logs surrounding it. Some of the guests grilled their own food while warming up themselves and enjoying their conversation. It was a splendid way to end the adventure of the day.
Why the slim Alaskan husky?
Some people might notice that the dogs in the facility were slimmer than the usual Siberian huskies or Alaskan malamutes. But do not worry, they are not underfed, because they are Alaskan huskies. An Alaskan husky is a crossbreed of a Siberian husky, an Alaskan malamute, and a greyhound. Therefore, it has the winter endurance of a husky, strength of a malamute and speed of a greyhound. In addition, it needs the size and shape of a greyhound to achieve the speed required.
The team and their lives
As stated by Sylvi, a team of dog sled consists of 10 dogs. The lead dog or the dog in front is usually an experienced female dog. This dog is calm and able to communicate well with the musher. The dogs behind her are called as the swingers. They are the motivators of the team, who give the hype to run when the musher commands. The last two dogs that are stationed right in front of the sled are usually the strongest males, in order to pull the sled when it gets stuck in the snow.
To steer right and left, the musher yells ‘gee’ and ‘haw’ respectively. However, the sled is designed to be flexible with long stretches of thin wood, so the musher can manage to steer on bumpy roads with his or her body movement as well.
A puppy starts his training at 6 months of age, and starts to join the team at the age of one year old. According to Sylvi, all dogs have the opportunity to get off-chained for at least 10 hours a week. She said that it is enough for them considering that they exercise a lot when they pull the sled. Moreover, they need the maximum energy when they are running the sled.
So, what are their activities during summer time when there is no sledding? Sylvi explained that they have three possibilities for summer. First, if it is too warm, they have to rest because they are winter dogs. Secondly, they have the chance to go hiking with guests. And lastly, they might be taken to the summer camp, where they can run free in a special enclosure.
Back to the city center with joy
At 2 PM, the bus that transported the participants came back and picked us up. We went back to the city center after thanking Tromsø Villmarkssenter. After all, it was a delightful experience, suitable for people who love dogs, speed and stunning scenery.
Text: Yati Chen