Husky Safaris - FAQs

Do I need prior experience of dog sledding?
No. On every safari the guides spend time teaching those new to the sport. Husky safaris are ideal winter holidays for those who love wild and unspoilt places and adventure. Driving a team of racing huskies across miles of sparkling, snow-covered wilderness is a magical experience. On most of these safaris, each participant is a ‘musher’, driving their own team of huskies.

There are three main experiences on a husky safari. The laughs and adrenaline of the fast starts, the falls and the humorous antics of the dogs. Then there is the peace and tranquillity of cruising across the snowy wilderness with hardly a soul about for miles. And at the end of the day there is the camaraderie and shared moments with the other ‘mushers’ and the guides.

The co-operation within the dog team and between the team and the musher is a pleasure to witness and to be a part of. As the days progress and the teamwork develops, the rhythm and harmony between musher and dog-team becomes clearly evident. The mood of the individual huskies changes subtly from day to day and the layout of the team is re-appraised every morning and lunchtime. For many people, the dog-team is a perfect, non-intrusive means to travel through the wilderness.

How fit do I need to be?
Most people quickly pick up the art of dog sledding. Mushers do not need to be exceptionally fit or strong. The guides will match the number of huskies in your team with your strength. 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 loose dog team. Mushers should do some sport or regular activity in their normal life.

How do I drive a dogsled?
On safari usually four, five or six-dog teams are used, although this is reviewed to suit individual mushers. In a six-dog team, the dogs are harnessed in three pairs, the two nearest the sled are the wheel-dogs, the middle pair are the speed-dogs and the front two are the leaders. The wheel-dogs are normally male and provide the power.  The speed-dogs provide the stamina and regulate the team, while the leaders are usually female and provide the intelligence (no comment!!)

The starts are high-adrenaline moments, for the huskies and the mushers. On average there are six mushers on safari, plus guides; resulting in about fifty huskies who all know its time for 'walkies'. The atmosphere can be electric and deafening. At rest, the sleds are tied to an immovable object such as a tree. When starting hold the sled firmly with one hand (the huskies will be pulling strongly) and undo the slipknot with the other hand. Grab the sled with both hands, run a couple of steps and jump onto the runners. Where possible, tie up the sled in such a way that you can stand with one foot on a sled runner and the other foot on the brake when the slip knot is untied.

When cornering, lean into the corner as you would on a bike and move your weight onto the inside runner. On tight, fast corners you should also lower your centre of gravity by crouching down low. Mushers who lean into corners, put their weight on the inside runner and who crouch low, rarely fall off. The most common difficulty for novice mushers is being able to relax when mushing. The adrenaline and the fear of falling off usually makes novice mushers tense up, especially their neck, shoulders and arms, becoming almost rigid as they hold on tightly. Tensing up exhausts the musher very quickly. It also increases the likelihood of falling off. It is important to have a fluid, relaxed stance that can react freely to the twists, turns and bumps in the trail. A good test of advanced mushing skills is to close your eyes, while going along. This encourages a light, fluid stance that can react quickly to the bumps and turns. It also tests the musher's trust in the huskies.

All the safaris are led by an trained guide who knows the route. 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 across deep snow. Heavy, overnight snow can make the next day's travelling 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 and does not yell at them. When there is a steep up-hill section in the trail a good musher runs between the sled-runners or at least pushes with one foot, like being on a scooter.

The huskies pick up very quickly whether the musher is working as part of their team, or simply expects to be pulled along as a passenger. The huskies may be a little distant in the first day or two, but usually by the morning of the third day they will start to recognise you and respond to the sound of your voice. Try to get to know the names of your dogs, especially your leaders. But remember, do not to 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.

When going around corners, the line of the huskies will be curved as each pair of dogs follows the trail. If the musher brakes in the corner, the line will straighten. The wheel-dogs, the sled and the musher will then find themselves cutting across the corner in deep snow, often getting tangled in bushes and trees. Do not brake in corners unless the trail is blocked. Repetitively stamping on the brake to maintain a slower speed tires out the dogs very quickly. It is much better to stop completely, wait for the others to go ahead, then let your huskies run at their normal speed. If you fall off, the huskies will usually race off up the trail and the musher ahead will catch your team of huskies while you walk, or catch a lift with the musher behind.urging the training day the guides will explain how to harness and unharness the team. Mushers usually help feed their huskies as this helps build a closer partnership between musher and the huskies. The guides are very helpful and are pleased to pass on their years of dogsledding experience, in an informal way, all week long.

If you do not know how to make a slipknot, please get someone to teach you and practice it before the safari. Your sled will be tied to a tree during breaks and at the start and end of the day. A slipknot allows you to release the dogs with one hand while you hold on to your sled with the other hand. The huskies will be pulling hard and the tie-rope will be taut. Departures are high-adrenaline moments and it is important that your team takes off at the right moment. You don't want to be untying difficult knots while the rest of the safari are heading off into the distance.

How cold does it get on safari?
Although it is generally very cold on safari, you don't have to feel it.  Clients are provided with a special thermal over-suit and boots. Being well prepared for the climate is very important. In December, January and February the expected daytime temperature is between minus 5C and minus 30C, while at night it often falls to minus 40C. In March we expect minus 5C to minus 15C and by April spring is in the air with temperatures of zero to minus 5C.

In central Scandinavia the snow starts to melt in late April and May. In the tundra of the far north of Norway, even though there is usually bright sunshine and nearly 24 hours of daylight, the snow can remain good until early June. In January, in the middle of Scandinavia, there is light enough for outdoor activities from about 8am until 3pm, even though the sun does not rise until 10am. 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 7am. 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.

Will I see the Northern Lights?
Probably it is best to think you won’t and be delighted and surprised if you do. Cloud cover and lack of ‘magnetic activity’ can lead to many unfruitful nights. However if you hope to see the Northern Lights then a Husky safari is probably your best chance. You will be away from ‘light pollution’ and able to view a vast expanse of sky.

What to look for: as dusk deepens to night, the sky can be lit up by mesmerising streamers of coloured light and vibrant blazing arcs as the celestial sphere crackles with electricity. This fascinating phenomenon is the Aurora Borealis, better known as the Northern Lights. It should be noted that sometimes the Northern Lights are just a glow on the horizon. It is usually possible to see the Northern Lights every few nights between December and May, mainly dependent on having no cloud cover. The areas of our safaris are free of light pollution, so with no competing light sources, the clarity of the night sky is excellent.

What are saunas like?
Saunas are a way of life on all our husky safaris in Scandinavia. It is normal to enjoy a sauna every day before dinner. Saunas are much more warming and cleansing than showers or baths. In the sauna building there are usually showers or tubs of hot and cold water for washing. On our safaris, ladies normally go to the sauna first and when they are finished the men go. The Scandinavians regard saunas as very social places, though strictly non-sexual. It is common for a sauna to last half an hour to an hour, with breaks to cool down, have a beer or roll naked in the snow.

Do I need to buy specialist clothing for a husky safari?
Probably not much, if any. The guides normally supply outer clothing and boots. You will be given advice on what to take when you book - or you can always ask before booking.  Some adjustment will be needed according whether your trip is an early or late season trip.  Just like the UK temperatures can fluctuate wildly during the season.

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