Sledding in husky heaven

Joseph Kula
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Writer goes on the glide of a lifetime that leaves him grinning from ear to ear

"Ooow, oow, ooo!" The howling began as soon as the first husky was tied to a sled.

A second dog made it a duet and soon there was a canine chorus as the teams strained at their harnesses, anxious to take the city slickers on a glide of a lifetime on snowy trails in the backcountry just minutes outside this B.C. gateway to the North.

The dogsledding safari run by family-owned Dog Power Adventures ranked right up there with the pre-Olympic torch relay and celebration as one of the highlights on a mid-winter press trip to this city at the confluence of the Fraser and Nechako Rivers almost smack-dab in the centre of the province.

The Olympic torch is seen during the early morning hours as it makes its way along the rocky shore in Qualicum Beach, B.C. - Photo by The Canadian Press

"Ooow, oow, ooo!" The howling began as soon as the first husky was tied to a sled.

A second dog made it a duet and soon there was a canine chorus as the teams strained at their harnesses, anxious to take the city slickers on a glide of a lifetime on snowy trails in the backcountry just minutes outside this B.C. gateway to the North.

The dogsledding safari run by family-owned Dog Power Adventures ranked right up there with the pre-Olympic torch relay and celebration as one of the highlights on a mid-winter press trip to this city at the confluence of the Fraser and Nechako Rivers almost smack-dab in the centre of the province.

Dog-sledding, I discovered, is similar to surfing or skiing: just bend at the knees to absorb the undulations of the land, and lean into the curves

Three commands you have to learn are "hike" (to take off), "easy" (to have them go at a trot), and "whoa" to stop.

My three handsome huskies - no, they weren't named Cupid, Donner and Blitzen - had me zipping along the snow-packed trails. And, despite the snow peppering my face, I was grinning from ear to ear.

And the dogs, free to fly on furry feet, were no longer howling.

"Whoa!"

The sleds came to a halt at a fire pit dug out in the snow.

Off came our mittens and out came the wieners and hot chocolate.

Enjoying the paws that refreshes near the crackling fire, some of the dogs lolled around on the freshly fallen snow.

Talk about husky heaven

Earlier on our northern visit we got a taste of what it's like to skate on an Olympic-sized speed-skating oval, except this one was outdoors - one of two such facilities in the province.

Thank goodness long blades were optional on this 400-metre course, as the technique takes a while to get used to.

My borrowed Bauer hockey skates fitted snugly like the red Olympic gloves I was wearing.

Soon I was gliding effortlessly, my mind drifting to a time when, as kids, we cleared the snow off our neighbourhood pond in the shadow of Ponderosa pines and played pickup hockey until our toes froze and our cheeks were as red as the koi swimming beneath the ice.

My reverie evaporated as a group of young future Olympic hopefuls from the local Blizzard Speed-skating Club whizzed by, leaving me in their wake.

You could say they were skating Olympic rings around me.

And it was these same rings that created an unbelievable buzz in this city.

The Olympic torch was coming through town and the locals were as excited as huskies at chow time.

Both diners and serving staff abandoned their tables at the North 54 Restaurant (yup, it's named after the line of latitude that PG sits on), and rushed into the frigid air to warmly applaud the torchbearer

Later that evening, 5,000 voices cheered as one as Alix Wells, the 14-year-old national junior alpine ski team member, proudly carried the torch along a narrow path through the crowd and lit the Olympic cauldron on the stage at Exhibition Park.

The celebration came to a spectacular climax as the revellers were dazzled by a fireworks display that would give the international competitors at Vancouver's annual Celebration of Light a run for their money.

Some celebrants continued to party indoors and were entertained by the likes of 2009 Juno nominee Ndidi Onukwulu and the Louisiana's Red Stick Ramblers (on this night) and the melodic folk rock sensation, Great Lake Swimmers (next night) - just a few of the acts around town that participated in Coldsnap, PG's Winter Music Festival.

It wasn't quite a cold snap but it was pretty cool putting on the skinny boards and hitting the trails at the Otway Nordic Ski Club facility just minutes west of the city.




... IF YOU GO

www.hellobc.com
www.northernbctourism.com
www.dogpower.ca
This is a world-class cross-country ski mecca, boasting a whopping 45 km of groomed trails, a dog trail for your furry friends and a biathlon range.
Take it from me. Hit the gym and exercise those quadriceps, abductors and deltoids. My muscles still ached days later.
And I definitely needed to be in shape to tackle my next great adventure: a snowshoeing trek that took me deep into the woods of the ancient forest some 100 km east of Prince George just off Hwy. 16.
Carpeted with a deep layer of Champagne powder, this outdoor cathedral of towering trees reached to the wintry sky like so many spires.
One of the giant western red cedars, the Big Tree of Life (estimated to be about 2,000 years old), was a mere middle-aged 1,000 when Leif Ericsson landed in North America.
Snowshoeing is the eco-friendly way to go in winter: you tread softly and "the dark, green forest," as Gordon Lightfoot so beautifully put it, is "too silent to be real."
But, I must confess, I completed only a part of the undulating and, at times, challenging circuit. I could have used that team of huskies from Dog Power Adventures on my return trip.

Organizations: Dog Power Adventures, North 54 Restaurant, Otway Nordic Ski Club Big Tree

Geographic location: Prince George, Blitzen, Exhibition Park Vancouver Louisiana Hwy North America

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