Dogsledding with Green Dog Svalbard
Horse riding - check! Camel riding - check!
Elephant riding - check!
And now, dogsledding - check!
When I was planning my trip up to Longyearbyen, I had a hard time figuring out what I could actually do there since I was only visiting for a day. The usual activities involve snowmobiling trips, glacier excursions, mine explorations, and even flights and cruises up to the north pole. Sure, they all sound awesome, but none of them could be done in a day so I was stuck scratching my head. And then I stumbled upon a four hour dogsledding excursions by Green Dog Svalbard.
[message type="custom" width="100%"]Upfront disclosure: Green Dog graciously offered me a small discount for the four hour dogsledding trip in exchange for my coverage of the trip. In the end, I had such an awesome experience, that I would have written about it anyways![/message]
Karina at Green Dog was very helpful booking the trip, especially given my non-standard sizes when it came to the gear needed. But even more so when it turned out that my flight got delayed to the point that I could no longer make it on the Tuesday afternoon trip. That would of sucked big time but then she went all out to get me a spot on the trip the very next morning. And I am sure glad she did!
Henrik picked me up from the Polariggen and proceeded to tell me his fascinating life story - as many Scandinavians, he left Copenhagen for Australia quite a few years ago. Unlike many, he decided to stay there for a long time and have done quite a bit of diving there - he even knew the ship I went diving on at the Great Barrier Reef while I was in Cairns last year! He has also organized the first diving trip in Antarctica and now is a living example of so many people's dream (and the warm climate loving people's nightmare) - switching between working in the Arctic and Antarctica every season while traveling the world in-between!
Green Dog is a family-run business located just outside of Longyearbyen in Bolterdalen valley. They keep it pretty basic - a couple houses and support buildings next to a large, 120+ dog farm.
As soon as we arrived, we received prompt instructions on how to get all of our gear together - Green Dog provides the boots, a thick outer layer one-piece suit, hat, gloves... pretty much everything one would need. I have already had my five layers on and with the one-piece suite, I was all set and have actually gotten quite a bit warm during the trip.
As 15 of us have finally gotten
our shit together ready, Henrik was there to conduct a quick safety briefing. I was surprised to learn that it is dead simple to run a sled. Most dogs do not really understand commands and instead just follow each other - so there is no need to turn them left or right. Stopping is achieved by stepping on the "brake" - a metal hook in the back of the sled that buries itself into the snow and slows the sled down. Taking the foot off the "brake" and a slightly nudging the sled forward was all it took for the dogs to start running again. And boy they love to run!
There were two people in each sled and Henrik paired me up with Tom - an English bloke who was serving as the second guide for our trip. While young, he isn't new to dog sledding having worked in Canada and few other places before. We made quite the team together - trading our travel stories and aspirations as well as getting me up to speed on this dog sledding business.
Soon, we had the dogs and sleds set up and ready to go.
And while others were struggling to keep their dogs from running over to the neighboring team, ours were on their exemplary behavior.
As Tom later told me, Frants (the white dog in the picture) is one of the smartest dogs there. He is always relaxed, actually does understand some commands, and not just a great lead dog but is also a great teacher - I noticed that a few times myself when it looked like he was coaching Laden on how to lead our sled - slightly nudging him in the direction we needed to go. That was quite a sight!
But enough of the prep-talk. Let's go sledding!
For the first part, Tom took the helm as I settled down in the sled and got my camera out. Just to be promptly reminded that I actually need to help with balancing the sled by leaning to the sides as we were rocking downhill.
During the few brief stops we would make along the way, the dogs would jump off the side into the fresh powder - some to roll around in it, others to munch on the snow for hydration. They were visibly enjoying this!
Soon Tom and I changed places and I got to "drive" as he was telling me all sorts of fascinating things about the dogs and the dog sledding business. All while enjoying the ride (I didn't want to switch back for a while!) and the jaw-dropping scenery around us. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that a few times I didn't brake in time to keep our dogs behind the sled in front of us. But I learned quick!
It turns out that they closely watch the dogs from the early age to see which dogs literally play well together to set up the pairings for the sleds. The most calm, smart, and attentive dogs get to lead the sleds, usually in pair with an experienced lead dog that serves as their mentor and visibly works out quite great.
Food-wise, the dogs' ration usually consists of a lot of reindeer, whale, and seal meet as well as large quantities of fat, supplemented by high-protein dry food.
But I digress.
Even though the sledding trip is advertised as a four hour excursion, the actual sledding time was about an hour and a half - still quite reasonable, but just a heads up for those thinking about doing the three hour trip - go for the longest possible! I did not want mine to end.
Working the dog sled, watching the snow-covered mountains on each side, listening to Tom's stories, and trying to remember to stop and take some pictures once in a while - I had such a great time that I kept thinking that it would of been really awesome to go on a multi-day trip like this. Sure, snowmobiles can go faster and could be quite an experience on their own, but I will take half a dozen of dogs and a cool sledding partner any day of the week!
But as all great things, this dog sledding excursion was soon over and we were back at Green Dog's base with cookies, coffee and tea awaiting us - a small, but very much
welcomed warm touch at this point.
I would recommend Green Dog's sledding tours to anyone in a heartbeat. The snow in the Bolterdalen valley usually stays put until the end of May at the earliest (not knowing that, I thought that I might not catch much of the snow there in mid April) so you still have plenty of time to go this year! But even if you end up in Longyearbyen over the summer, Green Dog still offers "dogsledding on wheels" trips from July to October.
Look them up! You will be glad you did.