A Lesson in Mushing

Our six Alaskan huskies are running at full speed as our sled glides over the fresh snow of Spitsbergen. Clutching the snow hook to my chest with one hand, I’m snapping away with the camera in the other as Tim takes his turn at driving the sled first. I’m impressed with his control of the sled!

A bond with the dog team is essential to be a good musher. To help build that bond, our day started out with meeting each of the 50 Alaskan huskies that live at the Svalbard Husky dog yard. Extremely friendly and social, they are thrilled for a few pats and a few even returned the affection by sneaking in some kisses!

Owner Robert Nilsen gathers us for a few important lessons about the sled. “Most important” he says, looking each of us directly in the eye to impress this point, “no matter what happens, never let go of the sled!” We get further instruction about how to use the break pad, steer, and properly hold onto the snow hook.

Robert then tells us it’s time to bond with our team and shows us to harness the dogs, pointing to a board listing the dog teams and their positions. Right and left don’t matter; the dogs excitedly hop back and forth over each other. Position, however, is important as each of the dogs has a particular job.

Frøya is our lead dog and the queen of the yard. She is from what Robert calls the Norse Gods litter, or the best dogs of his yard, and is mother to many of the other dogs. Tim easily slides on her harness and hooks in her neckline and towline. Frøya then patiently waits with me while Tim goes off to gather Charlie.

One by one, Tim harnesses the remaining four dogs for our team and hooks them in to their necklines and towlines. The team is getting more and more excited, barking as if to say “Let’s go!”

All ready with her own team, our guide slings the rifle easily over her shoulder and climbs aboard her sled.

Tim hops on the brake pad at the back of our sled and the dogs jump for joy, yelping out “run, run, run!” I hop in and pull up the snow hook. As Tim lets off the brake pad ever-so-slightly, the dogs immediately stop barking and leap forward with a little jerk.

We head out across the snowmobile free zone of Bolterdalen in 6 teams, 36 dogs in all. It’s nearly silent; the only sound is the pitter-patter of happy husky paws running on the snow. We glide past Svalbard reindeer digging for food in the snow. The mountains loom on both sides of us; everything tinted shades of blue.

Finally it is my turn to mush! Tim and I carefully swap out positions, making sure to keep the brake pad firmly pressed into the snow. With Tim settled into the sled, I ease off the brake pad and find a comfortable position on the footboards. I feel like a pro as I lean into turns and control the speed of our sled with my heels.

As we pull back into the dog yard, the dogs aren’t even tired. They’re barking as if to say “Let’s go again!”

We carefully unhook the necklines and towlines and unharness the dogs one-by-one, putting them each back in their homes. After all 36 dogs are back in their individual homes, we all pitch in to help feed the dogs.

Everyone fed and bowls collected back up, it is finally time to say goodbye to our new four-legged friends.

We absolutely loved the entire experience with Svalbard Husky. Getting our own dog team ready really did allow us to bond with and get to know the personalities of our dogs. We can now call ourselves successful mushers!

Svalbard Husky winter tours begin at 1090 NOK per person.

About The Author
Jennifer Dombrowski is a training specialist and social media strategist in the field of higher education. Based in Italy with her husband, Tim, they have a passion for travel and love discovering the world. Follow her on twitter @jdomb or on Facebook.

NOTE: This trip was sponsored in part by Northern Norway and Visit Norway USA.

About Jennifer Dombrowski

Jennifer Dombrowski is a location independent globe trotter and bases herself in Prata di Pordenone, Italy. She works as a social media and innovation strategist in higher education and is a regular contributor on johnnyjet.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or on her blog, JdombsTravels.com

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