Dog sledding near Tromsø – two reviews!
Dog sledding was on the top of my list of organized activities I wanted to do when staying in Tromsø. I ended up booking two tours because more dogsledding is always better.
The first tour I went on was through Active Tromsø, whose kennel is located on Kvaløya. I signed up for their one day of dog sledding. On the day of my adventure, it was very windy, with blowing and drifting snow such that while I was driving to the kennel at times I couldn’t see 3 meters ahead of me. These conditions were to continue, intermittently, throughout the sledding trip. Did this stop us? No! Was it hard? Yes! And we liked it that way. Our trip was not an easy romp over packed snow trails… it was an adventure through deep snow and steeper inclines. I had a chance to chat with the owner of Active Tromsø, Tore Albrigtsen about his adventures. He is proud to say that Active Tromsø has the most difficult dog sledding trails of the tour companies near Tromsø. Tore is a remarkable person who is a mountaineer, marathoner, skiier, and long-time musher. His dogs are true canine athletes who have run the Iditarod and Yukon Quest, and it was an honor to be out on the trail with them. After my day on the trail, we were all quite tired and sore, but happy to have had the experience!
Active Tromsø offers a few other activities, including a week-long dog sled expedition that sounds like a delightful challenge, and night time dog sledding where you might see the northern lights. In the summer, they have glacier hikes, kayaking, and dog training with carts. If I were to go dog sledding again in this area, this is who I would go with.
Next, I booked a dog sledding trip with Lyngsfjord Adventure, whose kennels are located about an hour and a half south of Tromsø. They are a more typical tourist activity center that does daily dog sledding tours, overnight stays to watch the northern lights, reindeer sledding, and snowmobile trips. Their base camp, Camp Tamok, is very nice and civilized with hot running water and toilets that flush. The sledding tour I took came with a traditional Norwegian meal of reindeer stew, bread, and dessert.
The dog sledding here was a lot less challenging (nobody’s sled tipped over) but lots of fun because we had good weather (if a little cold, it was -20C) and went about 8 km. The sleds here were not enclosed and had a very easy to use brake that was a flat piece of rubber with holes in it, that you could easily stand on to create more drag to slow the sled down. It was joy to sled through the snow-covered landscape in the pinkish light that precedes a sunrise that never comes. We mushed our way up a gorgeous valley with a mostly frozen over stream at the bottom. Our dogs were eager to run and seemed very happy. Our tour guide brought one of his own sled dogs, who he hopes to race competitively, as part of his team when we went out.
So, what happens on a dog sledding tour?
You arrive, either by bus or by your own transit. I was the only one both times who drove their own vehicle (and I got there early, so I got to spend more time petting and interacting with the dogs!) All of the tour companies have winter clothing that they want you to wear, so first thing is to get changed. At Active Tromsø, they had heavy down jackets and snow pants, I borrowed the jacket because it was super warm, but otherwise kept my own waterproof boots, ski pants, gloves because they’re mine and they fit right. At Lyngsfjord, they had one piece warm clothing, and I figured why not try it (because I wiped out most spectacularly with the sled my first time, and got a ton of snow up my jacket… one piece sounded good!) Again, I kept my boots, because they work fine for me. If you’re going dog sledding, make sure to wear a warm woolen base layer… my favorite is Smartwool, which I get at about half price from Sierra Trading post.
Next, it’s time to go to the kennel area and meet the dogs! The tour operators do all the harnessing of the dogs, so you are free to walk around and pet, photograph, and get jumped on by all the dogs. Sled dogs are very high energy and will jump and paw at you, so make sure you keep your face high up and don’t have anything loose hanging from your gear. They bark a lot, especially in the excitement of maybe getting picked to pull a sled. These dogs love to run, in fact, you spend most of your time trying to get them to run less.
Then it’s time to get on the sled, and go! Usually you’re in teams of 2, one person riding in/on the sled, the other standing in the back driving. The dogs are trained to follow the leader, so there’s no need to give them verbal commands… your job is to control their speed and use your weight to make sure the sled stays upright. When the dogs don’t feel any resistance holding them back (IE the snow anchor is off) they will start running and won’t stop until they feel a lot of resistance on the sled again. (This means that should you fall off the sled, it’s going to run away without you… so always hold onto your sled and be ready to brake at any time.) The sled is curved in front, which means you can hit a tree going pretty fast, and slide to the side of it. There’s usually not much barking once the dogs start running; they bark to let you know they want to run.
At some point, you will turn around and head back to the kennel, with your happy, well-exercised canine athlete friends. Usually the dogs get fed after the trip, so they’re not very interactive then.