Frequently Asked Questions

Dog Team Related Questions
How many dogs will be in my team?How will you choose my team?
Do the same dogs always run together? Do the dogs always run in the same positions?
Will I get to know the dogs in my team well?What daily distance can the dogs run comfortably?
How fast do the dogs run?Do the dogs know where they are going?

Other Common Questions
What is the sleeping accommodation like in the cabins you use?What kind of food do you provide?
Do I need prior experience of dogsledding?How fit do I need to be?
How cold does it get on safari? How do you keep us safe on safari?
Will the safari be run in the dark during the polar night?Will I see the Northern Lights?

Recommended Polar Reading

How many dogs will be in my team?

The teams generally consist of 4 to 6 dogs for solo sleighs depending on the safari, the conditions and your experience, weight and strength. We will make an estimate of what we believe the optimum number to be, prior to meeting you and we may, then, move the dogs around a little within the group after the first training ride, so that we can see that each team can progress at more or less the same speed.


How will you choose my team?

On safari we usually use four, five or six-dog teams. This is reviewed to suit individual mushers since, when training, we may use 8, 10 or 12 dog teams, depending on the experience, weight and strength of the guide. One thing that we have to be aware of is that all the teams must be able to progress at about the same pace. Hence, if we have some 50kg clients alongside some 110kg clients, they will likely have a pretty different number of dogs pulling their sleigh!

We choose the dogs that will run together in each team by first looking at our distance records. We keep a computerised record of which dogs run each day and this generates an automatic guide as to which dogs should be run or rested on the following days (based on the distances they have run over the previous 7 outings). From the ‘green light’ dogs, we first select a primary leading pair that can not only work together but can also lead the first team (since all of the other leading dogs are generally following that first team, unless something has gone wrong en route).

From that point on, we have a grand puzzle to complete. We choose as many additional lead dogs as will be needed for the number of teams that we need to put together that day and then find swing, team and wheel dogs that can run with each of those front combinations.

We know which dogs can run together, which are unpredictably aggressive with other dogs (and with which ones) and which can never even be at opposite ends of a team from each other. We also have to be aware of injuries, pregnancies and heat and any dog in heat runs only in a female / castrated dog team in one of the last teams. (Some people think that it makes sense to put the dogs in heat in the front team so that all the others want to chase hard – however in reality, the scent that they leave when peeing etc just causes the following males to stop and sniff!).

When choosing teams for the multi-day safaris, it is a little more complicated still...the multi-day safari lead dogs need to be stronger on GEE and HAW than those running on the short safaris, since the scent of the trails might not be so clear and they need to be able to both seek out the trail themselves (if covered by fresh snow, since we may not be able to open the tracks as well as we do the routes closer to home) and also respond to directions reliably. In addition, if they are to sleep overnight out in the wilderness away from their normal warm beds, we have to make sure that we choose dogs that have lots of Arctic fur.

Whilst this all seems like it is a lot of work, it ensures that our dogs are well socialised and can run with many other dogs. It also means that most dogs run a comparable distance over the whole season as opposed to the burden of running just falling to the lead dogs or the best dogs. In reality, the dogs that tend to run the most are the gentlest ones who are always easy to find a space for, in any team.


Do the same dogs always run together?

No. We know the combinations that work particularly well together and also particularly badly and those that work well together tend to be kennelled near to each other and they will run together quite often. However, since the teams can be made up of anything from 4 to 12 dogs, this would mean that the leaders would run far more than the team dogs and that wouldn’t be good for either of them. Hence, the decision is finally made on the basis of the computerised system which tells us which dogs need to run and which dogs need to rest.


Do the dogs always run in the same positions?

Yes and no. It depends on the dog.

In a six-dog team, the dogs are harnessed in three pairs. The two nearest the sled are the wheel-dogs, the middle huskies are the speed-dogs and the front two are the leaders. The wheel-dogs are normally larger dogs (often males) and provide the power. We rarely run lazy or smaller dogs in this position but this is a good position for dogs that tend to look behind them at who is following them (since there is no-one behind them to break their concentration). Dogs in the middle need to be the constant work horses – they should be looking forwards and pulling eagerly without turning around or barking at the dogs around them. These speed-dogs provide the stamina and regulate the team's speed, while the leaders are usually smaller (often female) and provide the intelligence.

Many team dogs can also run in wheel. Some wheel dogs can run in team and most leaders can also run in team. Some leaders are so good, however, that they rarely run in a different position – that also applies to older leaders who don’t run so much and therefore are always put to ideal use when used. Similarly, some dogs are so lazy that they rarely run in wheel. Many farms get rid of their lazy dogs. We castrate them and then try to run them, eg as a 7th dog when we really only need 6! If we do not run them at all, they just get more and more out of shape compared to their team mates and that helps nobody. Occasionally, when we have more or less written a young dog off as being hopeless, we will finally find a pairing combination that seems to incentivise them to run. You never know!


Will I get to know the dogs in my team well?

Once you have become comfortable driving, you will start to look around you more and to enjoy the primeval sensation of driving through a pristine wilderness in an ancient mode of transport accompanied solely by the sound of the runners on the snow.

Do not get too attached to any particular dog immediately as there may be some swapping of dogs between teams in the first two days, to make sure that all the teams are moving along at an even pace.

By your third day of harnessing, feeding and bedding down your own team (if you wish), you will definitely have developed a strong bond with them. They will recognise you and your voice and will look to you for praise. You will know which ones always pull with all their might, which have the tendency to slacken off if you are not quick to reprimand etc. And you will no doubt be being offered many cuddles at every stop. In some cabins on some routes, it may even be possible to have one or two of the dogs snuggling up with you in your cabin and if so, that is when you will really come to appreciate how gentle and affectionate huskies are.

The guides are very helpful and are pleased to pass on their years of dog-sledding experience, in an informal way, all week long.


What daily distance can the dogs run comfortably?

The question should, rather, be what daily distance are the human mushers capable of covering? The dogs are trained to run long distances and 50km is relatively short for them by the end of the season (where-as it is a lot in the first few weeks of December, when the snow has only just settled). However, whilst a good team can easily cover 80 to 90 kms in a day, we generally do not ask our dogs to run much more than 40km a day since we want to make sure that they are continually keen to run, day after day. 40km suddenly seems like a really long way, also, after a sudden heavy snowfall!


How fast do the dogs run?

The dogs run at different speeds, according to the distance to be covered. During a safari, we try hard to maintain a steady speed of about 10km per hour, for the safety of the dogs as well as that of the clients. This is a pleasant speed at which to view the arctic landscape. Having said that, it is rare to leave the farm at a speed under 25km per hour, so be prepared for a rush of adrenaline from the moment of departure.

The endurance races of the most famous sledge dogs take place in North America. Among them the Iditarod (Alaska) and the West Yukon (Canada) are the equivalent for the mushers of the World Cup for a footballer or the Raid Gauloises / Eco Challenge races that Anna and Pasi used to do as professional adventure races. These races last for between 8 and 10 days for the fastest teams and up to 30 days for the slowest teams. The distances covered are about 1600km, sometimes more. During the sprint races (short distances over 1 or 2 days) the dogs can attain speeds of around 50km per hour. The most famous Scandinavian dog races are the 500km Femundlopet Race and the 1000km Finnmarkslopet based a short distance from our base, in Alta, Norway.


Do the dogs know where they are going?

Yes – at least, in theory – and particularly on our shorter safari routes although on these, the guides give the dogs physical directional clues from the snowmobiles to ensure that they choose the appropriate safari’s track. Obviously, since the huskies are animals, we cannot be 100% sure that they will always behave exactly as we would wish. Therefore, it is necessary to be ready for unexpected situations during the safaris (for example, when you order the leading dogs to turn left – ‘HAW’ – they may turn right – ‘GEE’ – or when the dogs suddenly stop running or, indeed, when they decide not to stop…). It is these unexpected moments that turn your safari into a real adventure and which leave you with memories that you will treasure forever.

It is great to see how excited the dogs become when they turn off their standard 6km and 12km safari routes and head onto one of the longer 20km, 40km or multi-day routes since they – and the guides - know that they are ‘going exploring’.

These safaris are led by an expert guide who knows the route and who will command his dog team using verbal directions. The other teams of huskies will follow this lead sled, even if the lead sled is out of sight. The safaris use trails where the snow is compacted. It is very difficult for the huskies (or the mushers) to move off the trails, across deep, uncompacted snow. Heavy, overnight snow can make the next day's mushing hard work. All the sleds have a brake, which the musher stands on to stop the sled. It is a courtesy to the dogs to warn them verbally before using the brake. Commands do not need to be shouted, as the dogs have very good hearing, nor do they need to be repeated continually. It is important to be consistent with your commands. A good musher works calmly, in harmony with the huskies.


OTHER COMMON QUESTIONS

What kind of sleeping accommodation is available in the cabins you use?

The cabins we utilise are generally a mixture of traditional Lappish Kotas like our own farm kota (ie circular wooden constructions with basic reindeer-skin-covered sleeping platforms surrounding a central fireplace) and typical Finnish holiday cabins (with a mixture of normal beds and cabin beds).

We occassionally also stay in holiday cabins with electricity (eg when we have larger groups or ones which request the chance to charge their phones). Some of the cabins have separate rooms where individuals can escape from the rest of the group, but most don't.

Some have upper floors where people sleep in dormitary-style accommodation and a few of the more adventurous cabins on the high tundra are like Alpine refuges where you lay out your sleeping equipment on benches.

Aside from for the high-tundra cabins which are only really assessible with smaller groups on the longest tours, most people say that they are pleasantly surprised with the quality of the accommodation but having a second holiday home in the wilderness is part and parcel of the Finnish spirit and people know how to live surprisingly comfortably even when there is no access to electricity or running water.


What kind of food do you provide?

Our multi-day safaris are inclusive of all meals and we are happy to either simply serve you or to have you take part in the daily preparation of food. Breakfast will consist of bread, porridge or muesli with dehydrated milk, coffee, tea, hot chocolate and some jam. Lunch will be bread, sandwiches and soups (and the thermos flasks we provide are an important part of your arctic survival kit). Dinner will be co-ordinated by the guide. Special dietary requirements can be accommodated with advance notice.


Do I need prior experience of dogsledding?

No. We will teach you everything that you need to know. Most of our clients are driving a dog sled for the first time and all manage fine – whether old or young, heavy or light (although we give those who are light some special tips on how to control their teams, and teenagers can drive only at the discretion of the guides). In other words, no previous experience, either of Arctic living or of dog sledding or skiing is required in order to enjoy mushing.

Before every safari, the guides spend time giving a driving demonstration and safety information to those new to the sport. If you follow their simple guidelines you will know enough about how to move with the sleigh, help the dogs on the hills, etc, to enjoy your first safari experience. You will also have drilled into you the key imperative – that you must never let go of your team if you think that you are about to fall off! (We will give you some tips on how to make that realistic).

All these safaris are designed to be suitable for both experienced mushers and for first-timers although some journeys are longer and therefore more physical, and some are more technically challenging and therefore more suitable for the adventurous than others.

For those coming for longer safaris, we take into consideration factors like the snow condition, your experience, your age and weight and the distance you will be driving, when we are making up your ideal team prior on paper prior to arrival. You will generally a morning of familiarisation and basic skill-instruction before setting out on the first longer journey so you will feel confident and prepared for your adventure. At this time, we will have a look at the group and see if we judged the number of dogs needed, per team, accurately or not and will modify if need be, before setting out on the longer journeys.

As well as learning the art of mushing, you will invariably come away knowing more about dogs and life in the Arctic. At the very least, you should have learned how to harness and un-harness a dog, how to hook them up in the line and then put back in their individual kennels with a well-earned treat.


How fit do I need to be?

Most moderately active people do not find a husky safari physically too challenging. Most people quickly pick up the art of dog-sledding. Mushers do not need to be exceptionally fit or strong. If you enjoy long walks, do any sport regularly or go to a gym, etc, chances are you will be more than fine on safari. If you are at all worried about your fitness, then it obviously makes sense to spend some time before coming, getting some additional exercise. The fitter you are, after all, the more enjoyable you will find the experience. Hiking, especially on hilly terrain, is good for building stamina.

The guides will match the number of huskies in your team with your strength and size. A reasonable level of fitness, concentration and a sense of balance are the key attributes needed. The snow is soft and there is always someone around to catch a musher-less team but it is worth noting that you will definitely feel tired at the end of your first full day and your shoulders will probably be sore since you are repeating movements that are new to you whilst outdoors in cold conditions. Two or three days in, you will feel like a professional.

What is just as important as physical suitability is your frame of mind. There will be times when the going is hard and other times when you are being lulled into a false sense of ease and security. Overall, so long as you have an open and curious mind, we are sure that you will find dog mushing to be a wonderful activity, very close to nature. You will really have the feeling that that there is no more appropriate way of travelling over the Arctic steppes, and you will understand why this was such an important part of life in the far North, in ancient times.

Those who are willing to (and still have enough energy to) help out with the care of their huskies will get even more enjoyment from their holiday since they will gradually start to trust and respond to you and to see you as their source of food and cuddles. You don't have to be an out-and-out dog lover, though it certainly helps not to have a fear of dogs. All the huskies are handled regularly from when they are pups and are surprisingly friendly. Don’t be surprised if you come a little ‘standoffish’ with dogs, and go home wanting to own your own.


How cold does it get on safari?

Although it is generally very cold on safari, mushers shouldn’t feel like it is too extreme since the gear that they are provided with is suitable for the conditions.

In December, January and February the expected daytime temperature is between minus 5 C and minus 30 C, while at night it often falls to minus 40 C. In March we expect minus 5 C to minus 15 C and by April, spring is in the air with temperatures of zero to minus 5 C.

In January there is enough light for outdoor activities from about 9 am until 3 pm. The long twilight hours are coloured with hues of blue, creating a fairy-tale atmosphere. When there is a full moon the snow reflects so much light that outdoor activities are possible even at midnight. The days quickly get longer and by March sunrise is at 7 am. In the far north in May, there is almost 24 hours of light and the sun only dips below the horizon for a couple of hours.


How do you keep us safe on safari?

During your first training day, the guides will explain how to harness and unharness your team and will give you detailed driving and safety instructions. During your first training ride, we will accompany you by snowmobile. However, once we know that you can handle your sleigh, we will not necessarily have a snowmobile out on safari with you at all times. Rather, we will have one or more guides accompanying you on the safari whilst driving their own teams. They will be able to ‘park’ their teams if need be to go to your aid. More importantly, they will make sure that you are zooming through the white wilderness in the correct directions.


Will the safari be run in the dark during the polar night?

In December and January, there are only a few hours of reflected light per day so some of the tours, particularly the longer ones, will invariably need headtorches. For the multiday tours, there is a chance, therefore, that you may even get to ride under the northern lights during your basic 'daytime' tour!


Will I see the Northern Lights?

This region has the highest rate of occurrence of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) in Finland. This spectacle can be seen on average three out of four nights during the dark season, in clear weather. If you are here for a week, far from habitation, you have a good chance of seeing the lights although sometimes they are just a green glow in the sky and other-times, mesmerizing colours that run and weave across the heavens.

SUGGESTED POLAR READING


  • South Pole: Windswept Dream by Kari Poppis Suomela (a coffee-table book about Pasi Ikonen and Poppis Suomela’s South Pole expedition).
  • • 'Winterdance' and 'The Grand Blanc' by Gary Paulsen
  • • Born to pull by Bob Cary
  • • MUSH! A beginner’s manual of sled dog training
  • • The Speed Mushing Manual: How to train Raching Dogs by Jim Welch
  • • Dog Driver: A guide for the serious musher by Miki Collins
  • • Honest Dogs by Brian Patrick O’Donoghue
  • • The Joy of Running Sled Dogs by Noel Flanders
  • • Attla Training and Racing Sled Dogs by George Attla
  • • Racing the White Silence by Killick Adam
  • • The First Crossing of Greenland by Fridtjof Nansen
  • • The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the Fram, 1910, 1912 by Roald Amundsen
  • • Scott’s Last Expedition: The Journals by Robert Falcon Scott
  • • I may be some time by Francis Spufford
  • • South: The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition 1914 – 17 by Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton
  • • Mrs Chippy’s Last Expedition: The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton’s Polar-Bound Cat by Caroline Alexander
  • • Endurance by Frank Arthur Worsley
  • • True North: Peary, Cook and the Race to the Pole by Bruce B. Henderson
  • • North by Fridtjof Nansen
  • • Ice Blink: The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin’s Lost Polar Expedition by Scott Cookman
  • • Race to the Pole: Tragedy, Heroism and Scott’s Antarctic Quest by Sir Ranulph Fiennes
  • • Shackleton by Roland Huntford
  • • Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
  • • The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander
  • • Cook & Peary: The Polar Controversy, Resolved by Robert M. Bryce
  • • Across the Top of the World: The Quest for the Northwest Passage by James P. Delgado
  • • The Cruise of the Corwin: Journal of the Arctic Expedition of 1881 by John Muir
  • • 'Eleven dogs, a man, a passion', 'Road Nimipi', 'Legend Atikamekw', 'The island of mystery Akpatok', 'On the road loggers' and 'Will they succeed in saving Kokom?' by François Beiger
  • • "ARKTIKA" = Four-year odyssey on the ice by Gilles Elkaim
  • • White Fang, Call of the Forest and The Son of the Wolf by Jack London
  • • 'Ten dogs for a dream' and 'My life for a dream' by François Varigas
  • • Wolf, The Siberian Odyssey, The Last Trapper, Cold du Voyageur, NORTH: Great Travel, The Odyssey White, The Northern Song, The Dream Hunter, Gold in the Snow, Otchum: Pack Leader, A Winter in the footsteps of Jack London by Nicolas Vanier
  • • Byron, Andy, Granite .. Runners Snow by John Muir
  • • The Cruise of the Corwin: Journal of the Arctic Expedition of 1881 by Perier-Crouzet
  • • Dog Sledding: The most beautiful Stories by Daniel Duhand
  • • Dog Sledding: The most beautiful Stories by Daniel Duhand
  • • Sledge Freedom by Marcelle Fressineau
  • • Sled Dogs and Veto Snow by Dominique Grandjean
  • • The Siberian Husky by J. Vallerino
  • • The Siberian Husky by Chantecler
  • • The Musher by José Giovanni
  • • The Voyageurs du Froid by Dominique cellura
  • • The world of Sled Dog by André Pilon
  • • Practical Handbook of Dogsledding by Sophie Licari
  • • NOULOUK by André Vacher