Dog Sledding in Svalbard
When I was in Svalbard I went dog sledding with Arctic Husky Travellers and Svalbard Husky. I chose these two companies because they are both small family owned businesses that I wanted to support! My trip was in December, which was early in the season, in fact I was the first tourist to go out on the snow on a sled (rather than the road with a cart) in the 2019 season! It was an honor to break trail with Tommy and Foxi.
What to Expect on your Dogsled Trip
Dog sledding trips from Svalbard are most often 4-5 hours long, and start with pickup from your hotel in Longyearbyen and a short drive to the dog yard. All of the dog yards are down the road towards Mine 7, in Polar Bear territory. Interesting fact: you’re not allowed to keep sled dogs in Longyearbyen town! It’s nice to get away from the city! At the dog yard, you will get an introduction to dog sledding, and put on their nice warm winter jumpsuits/boots/hats/gloves. You get to wear your own long underwear and maybe a sweater, but other than that they provide you with clothing and a tube bandana to cover your face. Some companies let you help get the dogs ready for the trip; Svalbard Husky let us fetch our dogs, put their harnesses on, and clip them to the sled! Expect some time to pet the pups and take photos! Before heading out, the dogs are REALLY excited, and everyone wants all the pets and many will jump up on you. If you love dogs, it is pure joy to have an infinite supply of dogs to pet!
After the dogs are connected to the sled, it’s time to go! The barking stops, and you run off into the wild pulled by an exuberant team of dogs! You’ll probably have between 5-10 dogs on your sled, depending on the sledding company and dogs. Usually one person is sitting in the sled, and one person is standing up in the back mushing. (Husky Travellers is amazing because they have sleds where both people are standing, which means twice the braking power and everyone feels like they are actively participating! The dogs know to follow the leader, so there’s not much need for steering, just making sure you don’t get too close to the sled ahead of you! Your job is to control their speed and not fall off the sled. Usually pretty easy, and it’s a lovely excursion out into the snow covered wilderness.
You take a break halfway, switch who’s mushing (if you’re on a standard sled), and then turn around to head back to the dog yard. The dogs know that when they get home it’s time for lunch, so they’re motivated to get back! After everyone is un-hitched and returned to their kennels, it’s time for a hot beverage and some conversation indoors before getting dropped off at the hotel!
Arctic Husky Travellers
I had the honor of doing several trips with Arctic Husky Travellers, and I want to say a few words about them as a company because I was really impressed with what I saw. Tore from Active Tromso recommended them to me, so of course I had to book a trip! Tommy is another world class musher, who has been to the North Pole countless times (with his dogs), and has mushed in many long distance races including the Iditarod. The dogs you sled with are the same dogs who have done these things! It’s amazing knowing that you’re sledding with some of the best sled dogs in the world, and learning from a remarkably skilled musher! I highly, highly recommend doing the day trip that includes lunch and a slideshow, to hear all about the adventures these dogs have been on! Every trip takes people on a tour of the dog yard, including the “Dog Hotel” where the dogs go sometimes during big storms, and a chance to pet the new puppies! I’ve sledded so far with 4 different companies, and this one is different for how much freedom they give their dogs. Before every trip, the dogs get put into their harnesses and then are let loose to run around the yard and come out to the sled on their own. They run, they sniff, they do their business, they come over to everyone for pets, but they don’t bark, run away, or get into fights! It is remarkable to see this controlled chaos, happy dogs everywhere, getting ready for the sled ride! Every other sledding trip I have been on, the dogs are barking like crazy as we are getting ready to go… here, they don’t bark until everyone is hitched up to the sled and we’re just about ready to depart the dog yard.
Someday I dream of going on one of their longer trips to the cabin out in the mountains, to truly get into the wilderness in Svalbard!
Svalbard Husky and COVID-19
In checking the Svalbard Husky website to write this article, I discovered that they are asking for donations to help keep the dog yard running in the absence of tourism due to travel restrictions in Svalbard. If you can, donate to support all of these wonderful dogs!
Tips for your trip!
- Wear good long underwear. I love merino wool!
- Keep your camera and cell phone inside your snow suit. The batteries will drain extremely fast out in the cold (3 minutes for my phone.)
- The best time to take pictures of the dogs is before the sledding trip; afterwards they will be focused on eating their lunch!
- Bring some air activated glove warmers for your gloves, so your fingers stay nice and warm when you’re outside. It’s COLD out there. Toe warmers are really nice too!
- Ask questions if you have any, it’s fascinating to learn about life in Svalbard!