Canada

Adventure in Whitehorse: A Great Place to go Dog Sledding in Canada

It was mid-morning when we arrived at Sky High Mountain Ranch a 30-minute drive from the Yukon capital of Whitehorse, and one of the best places to go dog sledding in Canada.  Defined by an ocean of magnificent pines, majestic mountains, and a frozen lake that shown silver in the sunlight, the property was straight out of a fairytale. And all of it glistened under four inches of freshly fallen snow. We were going dog sledding, and I was beside myself with anticipation.

Dog sledding in Canada -- An Alaskan husky sled dog for dog sledding in Whitehorse

Musher’s Camp — Where the sled dogs live 

I heard the sled dogs—a cacophony of enthusiastic barks booming through the trees— long before we entered the musher’s camp. The kind of bark you hear when a favorite human returns home after a long trip, or in this case, before a run.

At the mouth of the 8km trail we would navigate during our excursion, stood our chariots, next to dozens of tiny dog houses. Dogs were everywhere, chained to their homes, running in circles, some jumping in the air, others planting themselves of the roofs of their abodes with their tongues and tails wagging, anxious to join the ride, though only 16 would actually mush with us.

A cabin in Sky High Ranch's winter wonderland for dog sledding in the Yukon

We were a group of three guests and each of us would drive our own sled—an exciting prospect considering many companies only offer rides as passengers. My adorable team consisted of Bully, Jewel, Thunder & Sneezy; four Alaskan huskies I wanted to plop in my pocket and take home with me from the get-go.

Figuring I’d be better off following a pro, I chose the sled behind our guide, Jonathan, a hipster-looking ginger with a broad smile and a “I’m a sporty, nature guy” aura.

After the customary introductions and pleasantries, we went over the basic rules of the ride.

Rule 1: Once the dogs are harnessed, never let go of the sled.

Why? Because the dogs love to go. They want to go. And they will happily go without you if you’re not careful. A reality Jonathan humbly illustrated when, just before we were about to set off, his energetic mutts yanked on his sled pulling it out from under him and then sped off on their own, leaving him face down (and red-faced) in the snow. Moments later with orders to “Stay there!” I watched Jonathan run after his pups around a bend and out of sight. Twenty minutes later, after a fellow staffer on a snowmobile helped to reunite Jonathan with is team, we were on our way as if the brief interlude never took place.

A sled dog in White Horse, Yukon on top of his dog house

Rule 2: Use your break. Keep a reasonable distance between your lead sled dogs and the sled in front of you.

When traveling as a group, there has to be some semblance of order. If you’re not careful, the dogs will get too close to the driver in front of them, and that’s not a good thing. Hence the brake, a metal bar at the back of the sled the driver steps on to create drag. The more you push down, the more difficult it is for the dogs to move forward. If you want the sled to stop, you have to put all of your weight (and I do mean all) on the break and the dogs will stop, albeit begrudgingly. If you ease up, the dogs will lunge forward. Expect a constant game of tug of war when you try to harness their mobility. And boy are they strong!

Rule 3: No picture-taking. Focus on the ride, the dogs and the sled. No distractions.

I was hoping to take video and/or pictures during my ride but once on the sled I realized that would be impossible. I couldn’t work my DSLR with one hand, so that was out of the question, and my phone died within 5 minutes due to the cold. In any case, I needed both hands to drive.

Dogs running in Canada as if in the greatest dog sled race in the world.

Rule 4: Stand with your knees slightly bent.

When I first thought about dog mushing, for some reason I had it in my head that I would be going over even snow, not thinking about the ground underneath and how that would affect the ride. Once the sled is moving, you have to be ready for anything, uneven terrain, tight turns, uphill climbs, downhill momentum. There’s a lot of jiggling and movement, and it’s easier to navigate the bumps by absorbing the shock with your knees bent, than not.

Rule 5: Use sign language. 

The wind coupled with the distance between dog sleds makes talking, even yelling, impossible, sign language is the only way to communicate. When the leader puts one hand on top his head, he’s asking if you’re ok. If you’re good, you respond in kind. If you’re not OK, you wave, and he’ll stop.

Winter wonderland at Sky High Ranch in Whitehorse, Yukon

And We’re Off

Reunited with his team, we were off, and what I jolt that was! The dogs were NOT playing, they really wanted to go. The second I took my foot off the brake, they shot forward as if we were competing in the Iditarod, the greatest dog sled race in the world. Almost immediately, I had to brake again so they didn’t run Jonathan over. It was a little disconcerting at first, but once I found my rhythm, and the right amount of brake pressure, I could take my mind off the mechanics.

What I didn’t expect was just how physical driving would be. Sure, the huskies have the lion’s share of the work, but even the ranch will tell you that mushing is comparable to cross-country skiing. You need to be in relatively good physical shape.

musher dog sledding across a lake in Whitehorse, Yukon

The physicality came from a number of actions. From being a counter-balance to the sled around tight corners and ducking under tree limbs and to helping with the hills by pushing with my foot. Plus, the simple muscle coordination needed to react to the bumps and jostling of the sled.

Balancing properly was also a part of the equation, and required effort. My right foot was on a runner half its width, and my left foot was riding the break with varying degrees of pressure depending on the trail and how fast the dogs were running.  If we were on a straight away and Jonathan was far enough in front of me, I would straddle both runners and let the dogs go, but being in a convoy meant most of time I needed to keep my team in check, and that meant one foot was always on the brake.

Mushing is not a passive experience, and I found playing an integral role in the ride much more exhilarating than I anticipated.

Some of the beautiful terrain on Sky High Ranch's property in Whitehorse for dog sledding

The Best Part

The best part about dog mushing—aside from the obvious novelty and the fact that you get to hang out with four adorable Alaskan Huskies—is the unique take on the scenery the ride affords you. Something about gliding at a clip through a snow-capped fantasy land, wind in your face, the sounds of the dogs breaking through frost, I found utterly sublime. In future, however, I’d want more time. A half day, or a full day at least.  That’s on my bucket list for the future.


How you can go dog sledding at Sky High Wilderness Ranch in Whitehorse, Yukon 

Sky High Wilderness Ranch offers a variety of dog-mushing options to choose from depending on your time and interest, from hourly and half day excursions to multi-day trips. No experience necessary. Note: Children under 12 are prohibited from driving their own sled.

Hourly:

$97 CAD per hour, per sled

Each driver gets their own team of 3-4 dogs

Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, snacks

Half Day Tours:

$190 for a half day per sled

Each driver gets their own team of 3-5 dogs

Intro lesson on how to hook up a team and basic commands

Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, snacks

For information on multi-day tours click here

What to Wear

Make sure you are extra bundled up. You’re outside a good chunk of time and it can get really cold in the Yukon. I wore multiple layers including thermal underwear and thermal pants, a heavy coat, a balaclava, a hat and a hood, liner gloves and mittens, and a good pair of winter-weather waterproof boots.


I was a guest of Tourism Yukon which neither reviewed or approved this story. 


Other stories from the Yukon you might enjoy….

Dawson City: Why this Remote Yukon Town is Worth a Visit

Exploring the Yukon’s Mighty Kaskawulsh Glacier

Exploring the Yukon’s Mysterious Sternwheeler Graveyard

Chasing the Northern Lights from Above and Below


If you're in the #Yukon in the winter, than dog sledding should be on your itinerary ---_ One of The Best Places to Go Dog Sledding in Canada_ Whitehorse, Yukon #Canada. #Travel #Traveltip #Yukon #Dogsledding #Mushing

61 replies »

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  2. Oh wow, high on the bucket list here too, but since I am a chronic backpain patient am a bit concerned the physical part is just too challenging for me, will not keep me from dreaming though and enjoying wonderful posts like this one!

    • Hmmm…. the jostling can be substantial depending on the terrain. Perhaps it would make the most sense not to drive but to be a passenger. I would hate for you to really hurt yourself if you’re already have chronic back pain.

    • Ha! I’m glad you found it so. It’s a hard thing to convey since it’s so physical. What I can say, is that it’s worth its place on your bucket list. It definitely delivered for mine. 🙂

  3. Wow, those photos. You didn’t need the video – you words painted all the exhilaration of the ride. Oh and did I mention those photos – wow!!! Talk about out of a fairy tale.

    • I know.. there’s a big hole without some video. Sigh.. but thrilled you liked the photos and the piece anyway. :))) Thanks, Chris.

  4. Wonderful post and pictures. I really enjoyed the read. The only sled dogs I’ve seen were while on an Alaska tour. One of the stops was at Jeff King’s place. He told an interesting story of how a California native moves to Alaska and eventually wins the Iditarod. He continues to race this event most years.

    • Hi Ronald! Welcome to the blog. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Interesting about the California guy winning the Iditarod. Not particularly intuitive that he would have the skills or knowledge. Love stories like that. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your time with my piece. Most appreciated.

  5. There are few things closer to my biggest nightmare than dogs + snow, yet your photos are exquisite works of art, as always, that transport me there as if in a benevolent dream. Thank you for the (happily) vicarious experience.

    • Oh no! Dogs and snow aren’t your cup of tea? 😉 Thank you so much for the kind words. i’m glad you liked the post. 🙂

  6. Thank you for this marvelous post, Susan! I greatly admire your sense of adventure. It would drive me insane to be gliding past this beautiful scenery, unable to take any photos — but your description makes it sound so fun and challenging that it would be worth forgoing the SLR.

  7. What a fabulous adventure! I have never before given much thought to the physicality aspect of dog sledding! Love your photos! And, yes, get a GoPro that goes around your head like a headlamp! You would have some awesome videos to share from all of your fun adventures! Cheers!

    • It was fun! Yes, and demanding. Not to bad, but definitely not a passive experience, which made it all the more exciting. 🙂

      • I used to raise Alaskan Malamutes which are big, fuzzy, not very fast, but good heavy pullers as a northern breed dog. I have never raced but standing on the sled behind some dogs is a giggle. Glad it was such a good experience. Just before my 65th Birthday I went on an expedition from Inuvik, NWT to Herschel Island by dog sled. We were supported by snow machines driven by local Inuit guides. 300 miles. It tested my endurance both physically and mentally. It is one of the milestones of my life :)) Really enjoy following your adventures and your photography. I dabble with photography. Going to Yellowstone to, hopefully, photograph wolves in a few weeks. Taking the snow cat to see the geysers.

  8. I have been going to Whitehorse and the Yukon for over 18 years each winter. The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race runs from Fairbanks, AK to Whitehorse,YT this year. I have been associated with the race as a trail veterinarian, head veterinarian and now Chair of the Rules Committee. Getting to know these athletes we call the racing sled dog is great. Returning each year to rekindle friendships and see the dogs has been a mainstay of my winter. The scenery, the dogs jumping and barking and ready to go, the musher’s bond with the dogs, all the volunteers it takes to make it all possible…………..it has been a wonderful part of my life. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • No way! That’s awesome. I hope to go the Yukon Quest next year to photograph. How awesome that would be. What an adventure you’ve had. Are you going again this year? I hear it starts in Alaska for 2018.

      • It starts the first Saturday in February. Lots of photo ops! Having the right clothes is key to staying warm. It gets coldddddddd!

      • Let me know if you go to the Yukon Quest in 2019. I should be there either on the vet team as a trail vet or as rep for the Rules Committee. For 2018 I will only be in Whitehorse as the Rules Committee chair. I think you would really enjoy the race.

    • Wow.. 300 miles. I wanted to do more but not sure 300 miles is in my future. That’s incredible. Sounds like quite an adventure and not surprised it was a milestone. Should be two milestones! LOL. Yellowstone sounds amazing. I saw wolves in Manitoba. What gorgeous creatures they are. Good luck with the photography. Would love to see snaps if you get any. And thank you for the kind words about the blog. I’m really glad you enjoy following my posts. 🙂

  9. I love this post! This is one of my bucketlist adventures (you keep doing those!) and it is great to get some recommendations and advice on where this can be done in an authentic, ‘wild’ way. I just need to get there while my knees can still hold up to the brutal temperatures in a bent position!

    • Hey David –

      So glad you love the post.

      Dog-sledding was definitely on my bucket list and I absolutely want to do it again. I suggest you do what I did should you get the opportunity. Take a two-hour adventure and see how your knees feel. I have bad knees too but didn’t feel much strain, thank goodness!

  10. What fun!! I’m envious. Methinks that you need a head (or somewhere) mounted Go-pro for future adventures. What a video that would have been! Loving following your journeys!

    • I know.. but not sure what I wouldn’t have mounted it to. Maybe the handle of the sled. I really thought I’d be able to hold up my iPhone, and probably could have if it hadn’t died from the cold. Sort of sad, would have loved to have had video too.

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