Drive a Dogsled Team in the Yukon Territory
Musher Marcelle Fressineau isn't so interested in giving dog sled rides — she wants to teach you to drive a team of dogs on your own. Welcome to the high north, where independence and grit are a way of life.
During your training, you'll stay in one of four guest rooms on Fressineau's gorgeous property — Alayuk Ranch, located 30 miles from Whitehorse, the territory's capital. Also onsite: one housecat and 50 Alaskan huskies. Beginners start with a team of four dogs, progressing up to eight after demonstrating enough skill and comfort to move at higher speeds. As a reference, competitors in the world's most demanding dog sled races (Yukon Quest and Iditarod, both of which Fressineau has completed) run teams of 16 dogs.
Your first lesson is on how to dress for the elements. Fressineau, who is both a certified backcountry guide and the author of two books on dogsledding, provides guests with an artic parka, bibs, boots, mittens, and hat. "If it's negative 30 degrees or colder, we won't go out," she says.
Next you'll learn how to handle the dogs, including attaching their harnesses and booties, and basic commands, as well as the canine hierarchy, from the lead dog on down the line. On the sled, you'll learn how to balance, steer, and brake, and begin to develop the musher's eye — a vigilant watch over your dogs at all times.
Guests interested in more than a taste of the sport can sign up for the five-day/five-night North Star program (CAN $1,790; includes all gear, accommodations, and meals). Using Alayuk Ranch as a basecamp, Fressineau leads a different dog-sledding excursion into the backcountry each day. Completing the program earns a diploma, and the opportunity to participate in a six-day dog-sled expedition (CAN $2,490). "That's when we really have fun," says Fressineau. "The scenery is wonderful; the mountains, the lakes, the Northern Lights. We camp every night. But don't worry, the bears are hibernating and the tent is heated."
Mushing lessons from CAN $170 for half-day; includes all gear and equipment. Accommodations from $45 per night; includes private room with shared bath, plus transportation from Whitehorse (and back).