Dogsledding : An underrated outdoor activity!
Six Outaouais companies offer dogsled rides. Some are more sporty, others more educational, but all are family-oriented.
At the Tanwen Pack, you can be a driver (musher) or a passenger. After a basic musher training session led by experienced guides, I opted for the sporty excursion in the forest.
Thirty dogs barking—the decibel level is deafening. The guides finish harnessing the animals, which are quivering with energy. I’m gripping the sled handle firmly with both hands—never let go! The adrenaline level is high. The head musher rings the start bell, the dogs surge forward, and then … silence. All we hear is the snow crunching under the sled’s runners.
For an hour, my four dogs and I roam the hilly trails and steep slopes under the snow-covered trees. The challenge is to steer the sled well, keeping your knees bent and your centre of gravity stable. I thought I’d have my foot on the brake the whole time, but I find myself easing off during the descents … which can reach 30 km/h. After running with my dogs up hills and negotiating several tight curves, I start to envy my children, who are comfortably snuggled up on the sled behind mine. Fortunately, the experienced guides encourage us at the turns along the trail.
A crash course in sled dog breeding
When we arrive at the Tanwen Pack kennel, I’m not expecting such a comprehensive introduction to sled dog breeding. Érik Pichette, a great enthusiast and the business owner for 18 years, takes us on a tour of the maternity ward, the enclosure for dogs with disabilities, the enclosure for retirees, and the gigantic enclosure for the 40 or so working sled dogs.
While sharing his passion for this traditional means of transportation, he describes the psychology of husky dogs. The first three months of their life are crucial for their socialization. They’re born competitive, and running is in their nature. As they won’t willingly stop, it’s up to us humans to supervise them! Amongst themselves, they are very assertive. They derive their strength, intelligence and cunning from their Canis lupus (wolf) side.
What happens in summer?
Timberland Tours offers a summer dogsledding experience. At the Tanwen Pack, after their active period (approximately from December to late March), the dogs go through a detraining period: they’re hitched up less and less often, and sometimes run alongside ATVs. Volunteers spend the summer walking and cuddling the dogs.
In September, the team gradually resumes training. The kennel is fenced off so that the dogs can concentrate on their work. The business has plans to add a dog park and, why not, a giant wheel—just like a hamster’s!
Sled dogs are hybrids of several breeds: sometimes greyhound, sometimes husky, often wolf!
Quite an adventure
I’m proud of myself for not backing out in the face of the unknown; proud that I didn’t fall and that I managed to steer my sled along the hilly trails and around the tight curves. Most of all, I’m happy that I got out of my comfort zone and overcame my initial fears. It was an unforgettable and safe experience for the whole family, adapted to everyone’s comfort level and physical ability!
A few useful tips
You can drive your own sled or be a passenger. The important thing is to indicate your preference in advance. Packages range from one hour to several days. Our experience at the Tanwen Pack lasted 3½ hours (9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.).
You have to reserve a time slot in advance. In the current health situation, equipment rental is not available. Depending on the weather, ski goggles can be a good idea.
If you choose the sporty dogsledding option, you must be reasonably fit and not have heart problems. Here’s some free advice: dress in layers, because you’ll get hot! For an unusual ride, try skijoring: put on your cross-country skis and let your new canine buddy pull you along the trail.
The staff reminds you to keep your distance, especially around the dogs. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to pet them right now—but they’re always up for a photo!
Aux Solstices Kenauk, Montebello
Gatineau Sled Dogs, St-Sixte
Timberland Tours, Bristol
Escapade Huskimo, Pontiac
Tanwen Pack, Montpellier
Ferme L’Aventure, Low
Attelage de la Lièvre, Mulgrave-et-Derry
By reservation, as long as there’s enough snow; generally from December to late March or early April.