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A european winter holiday: dog sledding in Finland
When the winter word comes to my head I think of the warmth of log fires, the taste of mulled wine and the sight of cold evenings from this side of the window. No one can take me out of the house.
I am a hibernating bear.
Two years ago I decided to do something different and don't let myself go down with the winter blues. Well, it was more like my boss decision 'either take the week holiday before march or loose it'.
What could I do in january or february? The caribean was too far from Europe. Hadn't been skiing for years...i did not make my mind up until one day I glanced at my personal 'to do list', that is things I want to do during my lifetime. Dog sledding!
Having only two and a half months to plan it I had to be efficient but there are so many things to think about.
- What type of trip?
- Who with?
Where to go for this kind of trip?
There are so many places you can go on a dog sledding holiday. Canada, Alaska, Siberia, Argentina, Central Europe and the Scandinavian countries.
If I had all the time of the world I would have gone to Canada or Alaska but having only a week, that kind of settled it, it would have to be somewhere in Europe, like the Scandinavian countries. Central Europe seems too crowded with people and you don't get to see the Northern Lights.
I decided to try Finland. It is the place where I found the type of trip I was looking for and that I could afford.
What type of dog sledding trip do you want to do?
There are two different kind of trips available.
1) If you stay at a ski resort, there are numerous of companies offering day dog sledding trips, starting and ending at your hotel. This could be a good 'first taste' of the activity but I found some negative points for what I was looking for. First of all, you sit on the sledge and someone else is driving it. So all you do is sit around for a few hours. Sure the scenery is pretty but it is hardly an adventure. Secondly, you will never feel as if you are in the wilderness, since you are starting and ending from the ski resort, it is very likely you will hear and meet people. It would also be very unlikely you will encounter any wildlife as they tend to stay away from human settlements. So my verdict is: if you are taking a skiing holiday and come across one of this dog sledding trips, take it! sure it will be a nice break for your tired legs. Just don't have too many expectatives of the whole experience.
2) For those who want to experience nature and the experience of a lifetime this is the option. Staying at a private house or an Inn to start the holiday, you then take a few days trip across the forest or tundra stopping overnight at log cabins or in tents. In some places they combine the dogsledding with a snow mobile or a snowshoeing trip. With this type of safari you get to drive your own sledge and the sense of adventure is palpable. Furthermore, since you will be travelling far from the base, the chances to see other people decrease and the probability to see wildlife will increase.
When to go on a dog sledding trip?
This question must be so obvious. Well, winter, duh!
February seems like a good month, the days are getting longer so you will be able to enjoy the outdoors for longer.
Yeah but beyond that...what time of the month? Does anybody think about this? Personally, it took me almost two weeks to decide if it would matter.
What concerned me was the moon. If there is full moon then its light will reflect on the snow and you will be able to see for miles at night. Certainly a wonderful sight. But will a full moon change the appearance of the northern lights? Will it be too bright so the aurora borealis show won't be that spectacular? It all comes down to personal preferences.
On my case I decided to go for northern lights. After all, I might never have the chance to be at those latitudes again. And I made the right decision, at the end our trip we got one of the most amazing northern lights shows ever. Not just me saying, but it made the Finnish national news.
Even this small decision can make it or break it.
For those who want to go to Alaska and north British Columbia in Canada, there is an Aurora Forecast website made by the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska.
Who to go with on this trip?
Face it. It will be difficult to find someone prepared to go on this trip with you. These long dog sledding trips are not for the faint hearted and are not cheap either. It can take you a while to find a companion. If you don't have time to wait around for anybody you can do as I did, go on your own. You'll meet your fellow travellers soon enough. It is a great opportunity to socialise and meet new people and new dogs.
Location of The Border Inn, Finland
Choosing the right place
The Border Inn in northern Finland seemed like the kind of place for me. Owned and managed by Philip and Mira, it is remote, friendly and with plenty of opportunities to see wildlife. Arriving at the regional airport of Kuusamo I did not know where exactly the Inn was. On our drive to our base we saw no cars and only a few houses, here and there. Philip, talked with no end about the dogs and how you can occasionally see bears and wolves crossing the very same road we were on. The excitement built up on me, I was on my element. If it wasn't for google maps I still wouldn't know where exactly the Inn is.
Somewhere along the Russian border tucked away some miles south of the Arctic Circle, by a lake?
After meeting my fellow travellers, and have the traditional sauna, we joined Philip, Mira and their two girls for some home made reindeer stew. I never saw another reindeer again.
Day two is a training day, where we learnt how to drive our sled dog and how to control those energetic dogs who seem to be addicted to red bull and ginseng. Lesson of the day: You cannot control them, they will go where they want to go, unless you are Philip or have some dried meat with you.
Day three is one of the most exciting. Time to go on the real trip. A four day, three night sled trip crossing lakes, fir tree forests and climbing trees. Then you get it, this is what dog sledding is. That silence... The only sounds you will hear is the dogs breathing and your own heartbeat. Even the wind is quiet.
Stopping at remote basic cabins to spend the night was a high treat. Not just because the first thing we did was to have hot sausages and bacon sandwiches to warm up but the scenery feels like out of a christmas card. There must be no one around for miles. Only the sound of birds and a lone wolf track reminded us that life was still possible at those temperatures.
Our second cabin seemed like more civilised since we had running water in there but I loved to go down the lake to make a hole in the ice to get out water out of it. That was why the cabin was rustic. Even the toilet was outside. Fancy going to the bathroom when it is -20C? In the new cabin though only one bed. A huge bed that later will accommodate seven people and five dogs. A mess of legs and tails all cuddled up together, like a christmas wrapping present.
"Any northern lights today?" - I had already forgot about the lights, I was so content with the dogs and the scenery that viewing the aurora borealis had hid at the back of my mind in some 'whatever' locked box. Someone looked out of the window.
"The lights! The lights!"
We all ran down to the lake to be amazed one of the best shows nature has to offer. Some of the guys had come down in their bath robes as it had caught them while in the sauna.We laid down on the ice so the sky and the stars were our roof. Did not even feel the cold of the lake ice against my back. The moment was too beautiful to feel anything else. Then the lights started their little dance, moving east and west, turning from green to red and violet tones. Philip said he hadn't seen any lights like this for a long time.
I wondered if the wolves were looking up too.
I left Finland with the thought of coming back to spend a whole winter and staying throught the summer to see the bears.
This has replaced my 'go dog sledding' on my 'to do' list.
Dog sledding trips organisers
- The Border Inn, Arctic Tours, Kuusamo Finland
The Border Inn, Kuusamo, Finland, Dogsledding and Snowmobiling Tours with Philip and Mira Ross
- Saija Oy, Finland
A week of winter activities including a 2 day dog sled safari.
- The Silent Way, Lapland Sweden.
Dogsledding adventures in Lapland Sweden. Tours in Europe biggest nature reserve, National Parks and mountains. Dogsledding holidays from lodge to lodge. Grand Travel Award 2005.
- Villmark Lodge, Sweden
Dog sledding in winter and nordic wildlife safari tours in summer.
- Dog Sledding Norway
Dog Sledding tours in Norway
- Jackson Hole WY
We offer full-day, overnight, and multi-day/night dogsledding trips into the wild Wyoming backcountry near
- Dog sled adventures near Banff and Canmore, Alberta
- Sled Dog Tours in Patagonia, Chile, "Andes Crossing"
Sled Dog Expedition, from Chile to Argentina 3+7 days
Dog sledding races
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