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Dog sledding through the Canadian countryside

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A dog sledding adventure is the most exhilarating way to experience the Canadian winter countryside, writes South Australian writer Amanda McInerney.

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The recent cold, grim weather at home reminded me that this was not the first winter I’d experienced this year and also that the first one, at Sun Peaks Resort in Canada, was hugely enjoyable.

The day we went dog sledding with Mountain Man Adventures was one of the best experiences in my life.

We were dropped by our driver at the edge of a forest, where we met up with our guide, Chris Schwanke, and were introduced to some of his wonderful dogs. Chris and his wife Taryn have a team of 60 dogs and have been sledding in the region for more than seven years, offering 10km runs for four months of the season, plus 6km night-time runs, weather permitting.

Tied to lines under the trees, these dogs are clearly born to run and keen to get going.

They are alert, with some straining and barking – anxious for the fun to begin. Their devotion to their musher is obvious, and they rarely take their eyes from Chris.

He encourages us to get up close with them and say “hi”, to get to know these friendly, happy dogs, rather than to just treat them like an engine, before rugging us up cosily into the sled and hitching up our team.

As soon as the harnesses go on, the dogs’ excitement level ratchets up appreciably (actually, so did mine) and, without any delay, we are off.

The dogs are anxious to begin their run. Photo: Amanda McInerney

Chris has no more than three teams on the trail at any one time and, with us in the lead sled, periodically pauses for the other teams to catch up, before taking off again.

The ride is exhilarating, rushing through the almost totally white landscape, through the forest of trees heavy with snow and across a frozen lake, with Chris pointing out landmarks such as a frozen beaver dam and wild cat footprints in the snow.

He is alert to all of the dogs in a team, monitoring each attentively, especially on the uphill climbs.

Sonic, one of his older dogs, tires more easily these days, but hates to be left behind, so, just a few kilometres into the trek, he is released from his harness. However, he has no intention of missing out on this and paces alongside our sled for the whole run, shamelessly begging for cuddles and hugs each time we pause, but refusing all offers to come on board.

Amanda McInerney with her new best friend, Sonic.

Once back at base, and after we’ve unwound ourselves from our warm nest, Chris asks us to help feed the dogs, to thank them for their work. They burn a huge amount of fat when working, so after every run, each dog is given chunks of beef fat and a brew of ground chicken, kibble and water.

In a working day, Chris will go through 50-100 pounds (22-45kg) of raw chicken, 25 pounds of kibble and at least 30 pounds of beef fat.

There has been quite a bit of discussion about the welfare of sled dogs, but Chris and Taryn are devoted to theirs. They have a warm, respectful, personal relationship with each dog, and all their retired dogs stay with them, unless they can find a totally acceptable home for them. Many end up sleeping inside next to the heater – not a bad retirement for these eager working dogs.

Getting there: Sun Peaks Resort is located in Sun Peaks, British Columbia. The closest airports are at Kamloops, 45 minutes’ drive away, and Kelowna, a 2.75-hour drive. Sun Peaks is 407km from Vancouver.

Playing there: Mountain Man Dog Sled Adventures is at 3240 McGillivray Creek Road, Heffley Creek, British Columbia. The dog sledding tours can be booked at the Sun Peaks Adventure Center.

You can check out Amanda McInerney’s other posts on Sun Peaks here and here.

South Australian writer Amanda McInerney writes about travel and food on her Lambs’ Ears & Honey blog, where this article was originally published. She enjoyed the dog-sledding experience as a guest of Mountain Man Adventures and Sun Peaks Resort.

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