Every year, my family takes a ski trip to Mont Tremblant, in Quebec, Canada. My youngest son and I snowboard while the others ski. We usually take one rest day during our vacation to nurse our wounds and give our muscles a break.
When we visit Mont Tremblant, we always look for activities on our rest day that we normally can’t do in New York City. One of those activities that always caught my eye was dog sledding. At first, I had reservations about dog sledding, because I thought it might be inhumane to have dogs pulls us around. Unless of course some sick girl in Alaska needed medicine and only a pack of dogs could travel the frozen terrain with the medication. (That was a Balto reference.) After contacting the owners and learning that most of the dogs were rescue dogs and well cared for, my brother-in-law Joshua from JAB Photos and I made the reservation.
Shortly after arriving, we were instructed on how to hook the dogs up to the sled and to keep the dogs several feet from one another. Like adults, some dogs don’t like to be close to others they don’t like. Also, like humans, some dogs really want to hook up in the biblical sense. And then they gave us about a 5-minute tutorial on how to guide the dogsled. Since I was distracted by everything going on around me, I paid attention for around 3 minutes. But this is what I got: push down on the back brake with one foot and lean side to side to steer.
We walked into the enormous courtyard where the dogs barked loudly, trying to get our attention. Each dog has their own doghouse. Some dogs stood on top of the doghouses barking while others paced back and forth hoping to get chosen. The dogs definitely wanted to get hooked up to the sleds. Each dog is on a rotation, so they are not overused, and makes sure all the dogs have an opportunity to pull a sled. The dogs that didn’t get picked, were visibly sad to have to sit out on a sled run.
Before hooking the leash onto the dog’s harness, I was informed to hold tight because the powerful dogs will bolt toward the sled. I approached the dog that I was told to retrieve and his tail began wagging about a gazillion miles hour as it sliced snow and ice around him. I was told growing up and I tell my kids, when approaching a dog, stick out your hand for the dog to get a whiff and let them know you come in peace. That doesn’t matter to these dogs, because they are thrilled to see anyone. He jumped up as though he was my long-lost brother and wanted to give me an embrace. Or a wet sloppy kiss. I commanded the dog to get down and he did reluctantly. I took the leash from around my shoulder and hooked it up to his harness and unhooked the leash that secured him to the doghouse. To say he rocketed forward would be an understatement. The dog lunged toward the path that led to the sled, causing my arm to be yanked outward. As the dog charged forward, I dug my feet into the snow and pulled on the leash. The dog buried his head toward the path and pulled me along, but at a slower pace. By the time we got to the sled, I was exhausted and felt like I had worked out for an hour. The dog walked right to its place on the sled and sat with perfect behavior as I secured his harness. Now, there were 5 more dogs to bring over, each one being just as passionate about dog sledding as the next.
The sled was hooked up to a fence, but as the last dog approached, I was told to get on and push my foot down on the brake, or the dogs could rip the fence apart. Did I mention these dogs were passionate about pulling sleds? I don’t think there is a right word to explain how badly these dogs wanted to yank that sled down the trail. It’s as though they were born to pull sleds. They didn’t just want to pull the sled because it was their job; they LOVED pulling sleds.
As my foot dug the brake into the ground, the lead dog arrived at his place. As he walked by, the other dogs took notice and settled down. It was clear who was in charge. Do you ever watch western movies or old war movies where the leader rides a horse in front of everyone? If you watch the leader’s horse, the horse’s head aims higher than all the other horses and the horses in line bow their heads to the ranking horse. The same is said for dogs that pull sleds. As the lead dog was being hooked up, I swear he looked back at me and rolled his eyes, and gave a sigh of disbelief of the inadequate driver that was going to direct his sled.
Once the lead dog was attached, he dug his paws into the snow and looked forward. The dogs behind him were jumping and yanking on the sled. An employee walked around to where I was poorly holding the dogs in place and suggested I put all my weight on the brake or the dogs would take off. Then, the employee unhooked the sled and we lurched forward and slid down the path. I was doing everything I could to keep the sled from moving. Finally, we were given the green light, and I lifted my foot off the brake and the sled rocketed forward.
Do you know what it is like for your life to be in the hands (paws) of 8 dogs? I quickly learned that it didn’t matter which way I steered or how hard I braked, I was at the mercy of 8 powerful dogs. And they wanted to go fast. Very fast. There were moments I thought the sled would get tossed onto its side after running a corner. At one point, we were speeding down a hill and I got a little nervous at how fast we were going and I pressed slightly on the brake. As I broke, the lead dog looked over his shoulder at me and I think he smirked and rolled his eyes again. A little later, I tried to slow us down again, and once again I pressed the brake and the lead dog turned his head and we made eye contact. I could tell the dog was thinking, “You sit back and I’ll handle this.”
At a half-way point, we hooked the sleds to some stakes and we drank hot chocolate inside a tent. The dogs drank some water and ate snacks. After our sled was hooked, I walked around to the lead dog to tell him “good job” and that he was a “good boy.” As I told him and patted his head, he communicated to me, “I know.” We stepped under a tent and drank our warm beverages and ate cookies. I regretted not bringing a flask of 40 Creak Canadian Whiskey.
After the break, Joshua took the reins and I sat in the sled. Sitting in the sled is not as fun as driving, but it was still an exciting ride even though you’re staring at 8 dog butts for most of the ride. Sitting on the sled, you get a better look at the dog’s muscles. The dog that’s closest to the sled is the strongest dog of the pack. As each paw graces the snow, muscles ripple through their legs and along their bodies. As much as the lead dog loves to guide, the back dog loves to pull. There is one thing on this dog’s mind and it is go, go, go!
Dog sledding was a thrilling ride and one of the coolest experiences of my life. I got a kick out of getting to know the dogs and their personalities. Each dog was completely different and had different responses to my commands. Whenever I take a snow vacation, I look to see if there are dog sledding options. If you find yourself in Quebec, Canada, check out Tremblant Dog Sledding. The company loves their dogs and the dogs love pulling sleds.
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