A few weeks ago, at the insistance of a friend, I reached out to Tanya McCready at Winterdance Dogsled Tours to see if there was still time to get in a dogsled tour on on her 5,000+ acres of backwoods trails near Haliburton, Ontario, just south of Algonquin Park. I knew my old friend Sarah Lemay, who runs Toronto's only breastfeeding boutique Evymama, would be up for just this kind of adventure.
With some quick-thinking related to the acquisition of car seats, we were also able to pull her two charming kids, Remy and Tayla, out of school to join us. You can check out the video below to see what we discovered. It wasn't what either of us expected...in a really great way.
The Basics of Dogsledding
Our trip up to Winterdance took about three hours with a couple of breaks along the way. Upon our arrival our guide Mike gave us the full run down. In essence, dogsledding is less about the sled and more about the dogs. Knowing how to read their signals is key, along with a communicating to them through controls on the sled. For the uphill portions of the trail, we had to jump off the sled and walk alongside, and as we coasted downhill, heavy use of the brake kept the lines taught and the dogs from getting hit by the sled. We headed out onto the trail with Mike's training, knowing that it would all make sense in short order - and it did.
The dogs would slow down and look back at us if we ever slacked off pushing on the harder sections. They are driven to be constantly moving forward, so we also had to use the brake to keep them from running right into the team in front of us. But developing these skills and understanding what the dogs were communicating to us was all part of the fun of the first half of our tour. Once we got the hang of it, we could really start to enjoy the scenery and the camradie with the team.
After and hour or two out on the trail, we crossed a lake and got an sense of how far from the city we truly were. Cliffs with massive turquoise icesheets covering their soney faces rose on either side of us, and the dead silence of this pristine and isolated part of the world began to work it's magic on our city-tired souls. Sarah's father had always been described to me as a modern-day coureur des bois, and I imagined that this was the kind of experience that people who were deeply connected with nature had. The early explorers of Canada were in touch with the land and connected to their animals in such an inate way that they could go weeks and months in the vast wilderness without seeing another human and be perfectly at ease. Our guide was kind enough to also prepare a lunch for us on the shore of the lake, and we had delicious hamburgers and hotdogs in front of a crackling fire before finishing the last leg of our tour, which saw us speed down a few hills and past other visitors just at the start of their own adventures.
Things You Need to Know
- Dogsledding tours at Winterdance are suitable for children and adults.
- The tour is very safe and the sleds don't go much faster than 20km/h on the downhill sections.
- The dogs will be barking before the sleds embark on their tour - this is normal and is just to show their excitement.
- Tours can be a couple hours, a half or a full day - call to confirm availability.
As a snowmobiler, I'd half-expected a fast-paced, competative race through the forest (and had already strategized on how to keep ahead of Sarah, Remy and Tayla.) But this is not what Winterdance's dogsled tours are really about. What I did find was an incredibly peaceful escape from the city. Compared to my snowmobile trip a week later in Muskoka, this was serene, connected and left me feeling recharged.
Many thanks to Mike McLaughlin of CityBird Films for creating this video of our break from city life.