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Dogmushing: Yukon's Winter Adventure Culture
The following publication-ready feature story, "Dogmushing: Yukon's Winter Adventure Culture", was written for Tourism Yukon by local writer Darrell Hookey. You are welcome to publish the piece free of charge and images to accompany the article are available by contacting our media relations department at the email address below. If you do print the story we would appreciate recveiving a copy of the published piece. Tourism Yukon wholly owns the rights to "Dogmushing: Yukon's Winter Adventure Culture".
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Marketing Officer, Media & PR
Dogmushing: Yukon's Winter Adventure Culture
by Darrell Hookey
Gliding silently through the pristine Yukon wilderness -- literally lying in bed while doing so as canine companions happily provide the locomotion -- has to be one of the most thrilling experiences of a vacation well spent.
No, strike that … try this: Standing on the runners of a sled, working as a team with your dogs, you swish through the jack pine of a boreal forest in search of yet another spectacular view. Oh if only your friends could see you now.
Whether you are sitting back and enjoying a dog sledding trip, or running your own team, a Yukon dog musher is there to show you the way and to enlist your help often. First, each dog needs booties on their paws and harness around their shoulders. Each of the dogs bark excitedly because each knows a trip is in the offing and do not want to be left behind. You help calm the dogs and coo reassurances as each are hooked up to the sled. The dogs strain at the anchor as they just want to run. You catch up in their enthusiasm and you are happy for the dogs as they begin to gallop into the trailhead that yawns open into the Yukon forest.
The barking settles as the dogs establish a comfortable pace and your senses are freed to drink in the smell of pine, the feel of the crystal snow crunching beneath the runners, the warmth of the sun on your cheeks and the sight of a ribbon of blue above the green of the forest rushing past.
Those who opt for the leisurely trip are laid out in the basket on a layer of pillows with a blanket for warmth and possibly a loved one cuddled in close to share the experience.
The dog sled driver requires only a minimum of attention to the well-trained dogs and is available to answer questions and provide a running dialogue of what you are seeing. Keep them talking because you will learn that dog mushing is a lifestyle for them and taking guests out on the trail is a way for them to share that love for the dogs and to help pay for the dog food.
Anne Tayler, who owns Muktuk Adventures with her husband, Frank Turner, says if they didn’t have customers to take out on trips, they would still go out for runs.
These trips include four-hour trips to multi-day trips. And, for special occasions, they can arrange for one-hour trips.
But, she says, they have no interest in turning this into an assembly line type of business. Tayler says she is proud that Yukon dog sled companies have avoided the trap of putting through as many customers as they can. She hears about that all the time and she wants her customers to know that Muktuk Adventures offers “learning adventures”.
“We are more interested in people who care about learning how to drive and how to take care of the animals,” she says. “We promote the care of animals according to a Code of Practice.”
Tayler thinks for a moment and then adds, “We all do. The Yukon is the only region that has a Code of Practice and that is there for the well-being of the dogs.”
Her customers do not just sit in the basket; they help with the dogs’ care and they actually drive the team.
For their longer trips, they tend to see a lot of father-and-son pairs and even mother-and-daughter. Tayler says it is a great bonding experience for them.
Still others just want to enjoy the Yukon’s scenery and the northern lights in the most natural way they can.
One thing they all have in common is a love for dogs. Tayler says customers become attached to the dogs and, sometimes, there are tears when it is time to part. Many come back again and again.
Tayler says in this world of whacky weather, Yukon<’s dog sledding business will continue to thrive as snow is plentiful and sticks around for a long time.
As for finding her own niche in the Yukon market, she says her husband’s name helps a little. He is the ironman of the Yukon Quest having run the race all but one year since 1984. Some customers will ask for him specifically to hear his tales from the trail. But, he isn’t a household name Outside since the Yukon Quest is not as famous as the less gruelling Iditarod.
Over at Tagish Wilderness Lodge, it is this spectacular outdoor wilderness experience that has been the cornerstone to its success. Beat Korner says his business concentrates on the European market and these visitors love the unspoiled nature.
“They find the Yukon is undisturbed and original,” says Korner. “While they run the dogs, no other houses, snowmobiles, skiers, etc. crosses the trail.
“It is one of the last frontiers to do this sport.”
Being south of Whitehorse, away from the Yukon Quest Trail, Tagish Wilderness Lodge has a much easier time finding virgin lands to break trails on.
Even the drive from Whitehorse out to the spruce log-built lodge with cozy and authentic log cabins along the picturesque shores of Tagish Lake is a journey into unspoiled nature. Indeed, the truck only gets so close and a snowmobile must take guests the rest of the way.
Yes, this is a true wilderness experience, but between trips guests can enjoy the sauna, hot tub and fine dining.
Korner says he has owned sled dogs since 1985. He decided on moving to the Yukon because it was the best place to indulge in this hobby and to incorporate it into his business.
There is yet another family, north of Whitehorse, that has indulged in their love of dogs and found a way to be around them all day and all year. The Cathers family owns 80 dogs and lives with them on property accessible only by snowmobile in the winter and boat in the summer. Theres is a rustic experience that hop scotches from cabin to heated wall tent along their own trail.
Ned Cathers and his daughter, Jeninne, take turns guiding most of these tours just as they take turns racing in the 1,600-kilometre Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.
But, first, the experience begins with “mushing school” that teaches everything from developing a rapport with the dogs to sledding from forest to hill to lake trails. Many customers choose to drive their own team instead of riding in the basket.
These trips can be considered “extreme” by many standards, but Uncommon Journeys has packages that will challenge the most adventurous guests and reward them with experiences of a lifetime.
For instance, there is one trip that takes guests to Herschel Island. This Arctic expedition can see extreme temperatures and weather and camping is on sea ice.
Then there is the trip to the village of Holman on the west shore of Victoria Island up in the Arctic Archipelago of Canada. There, the Inuvialuit are hosts for another unforgettable experience.
Another trip begins just south of the Arctic Circle on the world-famous Dempster Highway and traverses through alpine terrain and is surrounded by the magnificent spires of the Tombstone Mountains.
There is also a more instructional package called Outward Bound Dogsledding Course. It teaches how to care for a team, cold weather physiology, first aid, canine first aid, navigation and meal preparation on the trail.
There is a culture of dogsledding in Yukon and an infrastructure that supports any level of activity a visitor wants to experience.
Yukon Dogsledding Opportunities:
MUKTUK KENNELS AND SLED DOG TOURS - Frank Turner and Anne Taylor
www.muktuk.com - (867) 668-3647
TAGISH LAKE WILDERNESS LODGE - Beat & Jacqueline Korner
www.tagishwildernesslodge.com - (867) 393-4097
CATHERS ADVENTURES - Ned, Mar and Jennine Cathers
www.cathersadventures.com - (867) 667-6318
UNCOMMON JOURNEYS - Martha and Rob Taylor
www.uncommonyukon.com - (867) 668-2255
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