Story by Katie Marti
REVELSTOKE, BRITISH COLUMBIA — I’ve been in Revelstoke for almost a month and most of my free time has been spent attached to a couple of planks, either skinning up the side of a mountain or carving turns on my way back down. It’s a skier’s (or snowboarder’s) paradise here in the Selkirk and Monashee ranges of British Columbia and I’m loving every minute of it. Yet, while the town’s shiny new Revelstoke Mountain Resort and nearby backcountry touring mecca, Rogers Pass, certainly live up to their dazzling reputations, taking a day off to explore some of the region’s other attractions is sure to delight even the most extreme adventure seekers.
Today, I’m giving the skis a rest and have opted for something a little less mainstream and a little more traditional. I’m going to race across a snowy Canadian landscape on the back of a sled. Not a motorized sled, by any means, and certainly not a toboggan: The sled I’m talking about runs on canine power, and lots of it.
Eric Marsden of Revelstoke Dogsled Adventures owns a small-scale operation in town and a mutual friend has put us in touch for an afternoon of mushing in the beautiful Columbia River valley. Fortunately, I know my way around a dog sled thanks to a couple of winters spent leading trips in northern Ontario with Outward Bound Canada. However, it’s been awhile and although I’m definitely excited to get back out there, I have to admit there are more than a few butterflies bumping wings in my stomach as I pull into the dog yard and prepare to meet my team for the day.
Thankfully, one of Eric’s guides, Ross Goddard, is there to lead the way. He’s worked in a few different yards across Canada and clearly loves what he does.
“I’d rather hang out with these dogs than most people,” he says with a warm smile as he examines the paw of one our would-be runners, a blue-eyed Alaskan Husky named Jasper.
I listen as Ross and Eric discuss which dogs we should run. They take into account things like personality traits, who’s in heat and who’s been running too much or not enough on recent trips. It’s as if they’re talking about personal friends, actual human ones, which, I suppose they may as well be. Once the roster has been set, Ross turns his attention to our sled and organizes eight dogs into their positions on the line while I assist with my rusty skills. Soon enough, we’re loaded up. After spending some time in the yard getting to know the dogs and seeing firsthand the effort Eric and his guides put into making sure that every trip will run smoothly for guests and dogs alike, I feel relaxed and confident as I settle into my padded little seat in the sled and prepare for take-off.
Letting the Dogs Out in British Columbia
Ross has barely unlashed the sled from its anchor and hollered “Let’s go!” when we are bouncing behind a force of nature that must be felt and seen and heard to be fully appreciated. I hear myself whoop as we fly across the snow in a frenzy. The jolt of a team of sled dogs finally allowed to run after having been harnessed and held in one spot for what must feel like an eternity is unlike any feeling you’ve experienced.
By clever design, the trail leads uphill almost immediately after the start, which serves to slow the team of hyper huskies until, in no time at all, we’ve eased into a gentle glide set to a soundtrack of panting dogs and the whoosh of snow passing beneath our sled. We’re able to chat as we go and soon enough we’re stopping to give the team a break and take photos of the postcard scenery that has opened up all around us.
As we near the halfway point, Ross asks if I’m ready to take the proverbial reins. I have a quick conference with myself to determine whether I’m up to the task and, apparently, decide to go for it because, before I even know it, I’m standing on the runners, preparing to release the hounds.
In an instant, we’re off and running and it all comes flooding back to me; the balancing of the sled, the deep voice that lets the team know you’re the alpha dog in control.
By the time we arrive back at our starting point, Eric and his partner Connie are there, greeting us with coffee and hot chocolate, a welcome treat at the end of our snowy adventure. For the dogs, Eric’s brought along a bucket full of meat and broth as a reward for their hard work out on the trail.
Dogsledding and Animal Care in the Mountains
“Traditionally, that’s why they run, right? To hunt, to get food,” he explains as he walks around patting each furry head and spreading his appreciation equally amongst his dogs. “They’ve still got some wolf in them, obviously, so it’s important to understand that and to maintain a connection between what we’re doing out here and their true nature as sled dogs.”
Once again, I’m struck with admiration for the compassion Eric and his crew have for these animals. It’s more than just a business to them and, I realize, more than just an adventure for those of us fortunate enough to spend time on trail with one of his teams. It’s an experience.
As I drive away, I catch a glimpse of the yard through my rear-view mirror. I may not sacrifice a plus-10-centimetre powder day to ride the flats in the river valley, but I certainly won’t go the rest of the season without spending a few more afternoons on the back of a dog sled, snow stinging my cheeks and wind against my teeth as I grin from ear to ear.
More About Revelstoke Dogsled Adventures
Tours can be arranged through:
Revelstoke Mountain Resort
Revelstoke Outdoors Centre
Telephone: 1.866.373.4754 (toll-free) or 250.814.5060
More Info: For additional questions such as custom tours, special needs and any other general information, contact owner/operator Eric Marsden at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 250.814.3720.
Prices: A three-hour tour costs $199 (single rider) or $259 (double)
More Dogsledding Coverage in Vacay.ca
Dogsledding isn’t as easy as Katie Marti makes it sound! See this VIDEO from the Quebec Carnival about discovering dogsledding the hard way.