Alaska Dog Sledding Questions & Answers
Dog Sledding Trips | Tales from the Trail: Dog Sledding Stories
Q. Are your dog sledding trips for experienced mushers only?
A. No! Since we can offer a variety of trips, from interesting to very challenging, we can take people out from all walks of life. Our expertise allows us to customize enjoyable packages for any individual or group, whether they are experienced mushers or people who have never experienced harsh winter conditions, let alone driven a dog sled.
Q. Are your trips appropriate for families?
A. Yes! We can custom-make an excellent experience for the adventurous group.
Q. Is training included in your dog sledding packages?
A. Yes! The first day of all the dog sledding packages is a training day based out of EarthSong Lodge. This day is designed to introduce you to sledding, let us evaluate your skills, expose you to the clothing and layering principles, and teach you to interact with the sled dogs. It is also set up so that you go sledding on your first day and come back to a cozy warm cabin that night, gently easing you into a backcountry experience.
The sled run on Training Day is usually a 3 hour day trip out of the lodge, through an exceptionally beautiful area. Guests are paired up with a guide for each sled. This way, they can learn hands-on with the guide there to easily help them, reassure them, and observe them in action.
This is usually the only day that a guide and guest share a sled, since the backcountry trip will have each guest driving their own team of 4-6 dogs following the guide. After the training run, we sit down and go over the day, find out what people think, and get everyone ready for the trip into the park the next day.
Q. Will I need to buy a lot of gear?
A. No. While guests are expected to provide their inner and middle clothing layers, most people that engage in winter activities such as skiing already have most of the things they need. Guests generally spend an average of $100 for additional items.
We provide the specialized cold-weather outer layer (the stuff people would pay a lot for and not use again). These items include cold-weather pac boots rated to -80F, cold-weather dog mushing oversuit, and overmitts. we provide all of the sleeping and camping gear, offering top-of-the-line cold-weather gear. That includes Wiggy sleeping bags and Arctic Oven tents (as shown in the picture below).
Q. Will it be uncomfortably cold during this trip?
A. No. Due to the quality gear provided, comprehensive list sent out, and our knowledge and experience, cold temperatures and the discomfort sometimes associated with them are not a problem. We have never taken anyone out who has had a bad time due to being cold, and we have the knowledge, gear, and experience to allow rookies from warm climates to enjoy winter dog sledding.
Q. What if I don’t want to sleep in a tent?
A. You don’t have to! We offer two types of overnight backcountry experiences: cabin-based trips, and combination cabin- and heated-tent-based trips. That way we can offer trips for guests that want more adventure or more comfort, and cater to all desires.
Q. What kind of physical condition do I need to be in?
A. Dogsledding is physical, so the better condition you are in, the easier the trip will be. You will need to be able to walk or jog short distances up a hill from time to time. We encourage guests to do some kind of physical conditioning prior to the trip, even if it is just walking every day. That said, the key to enjoying our dogsled trips is mental attitude. If you’re excited about having a unique backcountry adventure, you will do well and have a great time.
We have guests fill out a personal profile form, so we can find out their physical condition, any past injuries that we need to be aware of (bad knees or back are examples), food preferences for meals, and allergies, along with medical conditions that we do need to know about (such as diabetes).
Guests will run a sled of 4-6 dogs, and we adjust the number of dogs and which dogs we use in their team depending upon their size and physical prowess. That does allow us to take out a big guy at 225 pounds or a small woman at 100 pounds.
Q. How old/young do you need to be to enjoy these trips?
A. Age is not a determinate as long as you are in good physical condition. For example, for a seven day Toklat Loop trip, we have taken people out from 13-75 years old. The minimum age to drive your own sled is 12; to share a sled varies. Since the trips can be customized, we can accommodate most families. The youngest child taken out was 2 months, sitting in his mother’s lap in a sleeping bag, for an overnight to a cabin.
Q. Are your dogs friendly?
A. Yes! We are known all around for sled dogs that are not only very good workers, but very social. Our bloodlines originate from the Denali Park Kennels in the early 1980’s. There, they need to have dogs that can deal well with up to 75,000 visitors a summer. Our dogs are well socialized, seeing thousands of guests each summer, and interacting intimately with dog sledding guests in the winter. The interaction between guests and our dogs is definitely a very high point of the dog sledding experience. Our dogs have never bitten a person, and the only aggression they show is that some are aggressively-friendly!
Q. Who guides these trips?
A. Jon Nierenberg, an owner of EarthSong Lodge and Denali Dog Sled Expeditions, guides most trips. He’s been mushing in the park area since 1982, guiding in Denali since 1985, and has done numerous expeditions across Alaska and Canada. You can read more about Jon and his background on the About Us page.
Our other guides, Will and Linda Forsberg, are long-time dog mushers that have owned and guided their own dog sledding company in Denali (Denali Dog Tours). They are also past Yukon Quest Mushers. In addition, Will was a founding member of PRIDE, a dog mushing advocacy group that sets standards in sled dog care and training. They have been mushing in Denali since the 1970’s.
Q. How many hours per day will we spend dogsledding?
A. We spend an average of 4-5 hours on the back of a sled a day, actual running time, with some breaks in between. This is the appropriate amount for people new to sledding, so they will see the most, get the best experience, but not be too exhausted by the end of the day. Mileage varies due to terrain, but we mush between 20-38 miles a day, conditions permitting.
Q. What can I expect to see during one of your trips?
A. What you will see is the Denali Wilderness, an area without roads, and very little use. Wildlife can consist of moose, caribou, fox, lynx, wolverine, and Dall sheep. A highlight is the wolves…we always see fresh tracks, often see wolves, occassionally hear them howl with the dogs at night. The Denali Wilderness North boundary area is an excellent place to encounter wolves.
We also have an excellent chance of seeing the Alaska Range and Denali (Mt. McKinley), since the winter weather is generally clear skies, compared to mostly overcast in the summer months. Also, we are in one of the best places to see the Northern Lights, and most guests on a seven day trip see them at least a few times. The terrain we travel has the most variety you can get in a short sled trip, open tundra to taiga forest, creeks to glacial river valleys.
Q. What size groups do you usually take on your trips?
A. We usually take groups of 2-3 people out on a trip, but can arrange for solo guests to be paired up with others wishing for a similar sledding experience. We can also offer trips with slightly larger groups that include additional guides.
Q. What other activities are available as part of a dog sledding package?
A. All trips can be customized to add additional days for skiing, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing. Jon is a semi-professional photographer and is also happy to support people interested in photography. Read about some of our guests’ dog sledding experiences!