The howls of excitement carried through the Arctic air. We could hear the dogs long before we could see them, but they seemed to know we were there. As we rounded the corner into their territory, several hundred Alaskan huskies joined in on the welcome.
Tails wagging, voices raising, ice blue eyes glinting in the morning sun, the furry pals greeted us as new friends. Some jumped on top of their houses to survey the scene while others playfully hopped and solicited a head scratch as every new visitor passed by. After all, we were there for them, and the adventure was about to begin.
Inside, some of our group was busy getting kitted up in heavy winter attire supplied by our tour company. After all, Tromso, Norway is above the Arctic Circle. It gets a little chilly. Particularly in the winter. Lance and I were already outfitted in our own gear, which we optimized after the previous night’s Northern Lights adventure. With three pairs of socks, two pairs of long underwear, and a balaclava, I was ready for anything nature could throw at me.
Nearby, the first group of huskies was being attached to their sleds. The noise around us swelled as each dog was harnessed. They had no desire to wait for their turn. They wanted to run now. The ones not used for the first round of dog sledding made no secret of their displeasure at not going out with their friends. But before the sleds had gone, they turned their happy attention back to us.
As we walked through the dog yard at Tromso Villmarkssenter, we learned about how the huskies are trained and about the hearty diet that fuels them. The sled dogs can run up to 50 miles per week, but they always have a day off and are eager to get back to running. That much was clear. After all, they were bred for this.
And then there were the puppies. Kept with their mothers in a kennel away from the big dogs, the 8-week-old charmers were impossible not to love. They jumped on their caretakers, played in the hay, and allowed us to love on them for a little while.
And then, before we knew it, our turn had come.
In pairs, we boarded the dog sleds with a musher. A few intrepid souls planned to drive their own sleds, but friends had told us it might be a bit harder than we bargained for. This time, we were content just to be along for the ride.
We had 10 dogs on our sled all pulling, jumping, and eager to get moving. In the lead were the females (our guide said they’re the best listeners and don’t get distracted). The two-year-old male huskies took up the middle position. They were followed by the strongest dogs who ran right in front of the sled. Their job was to keep things balanced.
Safely tucked under the blanket, knees carefully folded against the sides of the dog sled, we were ready to go. The driver pulled the break and we were off!
The huskies were so happy to be running. As we headed for the horizon, they cut winding paths through the fresh powder. They hauled the sled over bumps and around bends, past trees, and near the coastline. We watched the hills rise up and the houses of Tromso disappear and re-appear in the distance as the huskies made the dog sled soar across the snowy Norwegian landscape.
Every few minutes, a dog would jump off the path for a split-second to romp in the snow. One would deviate to lick a drop of water. And yet, the team never missed a beat. We continued on our adventure sledding over the Arctic, watching these peak athletes pull us along the way.
After about 45 minutes, just as our fingers became truly frozen, our dog sledding was over. We unfolded ourselves from the sled and headed into the lavvo (a Sami tent that looks a bit like a tipi) to warm up by the fire.
As we savored the heat of the tea and coffee, we peeled off a few of our outer layers. We ate reindeer stew and chocolate cake, held our hands over the flames, and tried to thaw ourselves. We exchanged stories with other travelers from around the world and even a few Tromso locals.
Soon, it was time to head back to the city. As we drove back into Tromso, we talked about our adventure. Lance and I aren’t really dog people and really didn’t know what we would be getting into with dog sledding. But it turned out that the dogs of Tromso were one of the highlights of our trip.