Husky Special Week 6 2011
Husky Holiday (www.husky-holiday.com) is run by Manuel and Anita, a young Swiss couple who have a farm some 60km north of Östersund in Sweden. From there they offer tailored sled dog holidays, where their 30 or so Alaskan huskies take up to four guests for a week at a time.
The week-long trip was based from the farmhouse, so on all but one night there was a warm bed, home-cooked food and an open fire to doze in front of whilst watching sled dog films. This is a holiday for people who want to get stuck in with the dogs; each morning after breakfast guests are encouraged (but not forced) to help with the feeding and mucking out, which is great fun anyway (each and every dog demands its morning cuddle). I imagine it’s possible to go along and be lazy, but you won’t get half the experience.
Monday was spent learning the basics, starting with how to start, steer and stop a sled. We were each towed for a couple of miles behind the snowmobile to get a feel for the brakes and steering. Then, after a BBQ lunch in a permanent tipi lined with reindeer skins, it was time to harness up the dogs for a first ride into the woods. The tracks are prepared with a groomer towed behind a snowmobile a few hours before the ride, which really helps when there is fresh snow – both the dogs and the musher can get more traction.
Tuesday was our first long run – a 20 mile route around the lakes in bright sunshine. This time the sleds were carrying reindeer skins, firewood and hot dogs ready for a BBQ lunch at a hut by a lakeside. After supper we hit the sauna and had a roll in the snow.
Wednesday brought a change of activities, with a 20 mile ride in the morning, this time in more challenging hilly woodland (which in my case meant three great crashes in as many minutes after I mis-rigged the gang line). Then after lunch back at the tipi, we headed off ice fishing. Eight bores into the ice using a two-stroke augur were rigged with spring-loaded hooks, then covered with newspapers and snow as insulation. After that we spent a very pleasant couple of hours sat over another set of holes sipping whisky and attempting to hook bait fish. The other guests weren’t interested in fishing, so they went horse riding for the afternoon instead.
On Thursday we returned to the ice holes to retrieve the fish – one pike as a reward.
Then back to the farm to pack for the overnighter. This time the sleds were fully laden, and I was on six dogs instead of the four I’d started with. The weather closed in – minus 10 degrees and falling, with heavy snow – and we headed off into the woods.
Pretty quickly we lost sight of the groomed tracks as the fresh snow landed, and had to stop and walk sections of the route to avoid drifts. This involves putting on the brake, embedding an anchor into the ground, and (if possible) attaching a panic line to a tree to stop the dogs from bolting. I managed a spectacular crash as the dogs went one way round a tree and the sled went another, resulting in a broken handle and me having to steer just on the uprights.
As the light started to fade but the weather worsened, we stopped in the lee of a small copse and set up camp. Dogs come first, so they were moved to static lines tied off to the trees, put into coats, given snacks and straw bedding, and then we brewed up their supper (basically a meat soup) over a meths stove. Water came from a nearby river, but only after climbing through waist-deep drifts and breaking the ice with a hatchet.
Only then could we erect our own tipi, drag in the reindeer skins and sleeping bags, and light a fire for dinner. A few very cold beers, some moose steaks, lots of chat from Jenny (our ex-Swedish Air Force dog handler guide who also happens to be a death metal music fanatic and talented artist) and then as the mercury dropped well below -20 we dug out the sleeping bags (brand new Mamut 5-season) and settled down for the night.
In the morning we were up with the dawn (well, the dogs anyway), got the next batch of dog food underway and brewed up our own breakfast on the fire before starting the long job of packing up, harnessing the dogs, and then riding back home in glorious – but very cold – sunshine. The holiday finished with an appropriate Friday dinner of pike and chips.
I have to say this was the best holiday I’ve ever had. Manuel, Anita and their team were supremely flexible, catering for the interests and energy levels of each individual guest. The warm family atmosphere of the farmhouse, with kids, cats and dog running round was much more pleasant than a faceless hotel, and the sled dogs are utterly wonderful – I would have smuggled one out in my luggage if I could. I believe they offer alternative itineraries for families, and can arrange other activities such as hunting to order.
[I have no connection with Husky Holiday other than being a very, very satisfied customer]