Learning To Mush – Dog Sledding In The Yukon

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How You Can Learn Dog Sledding at Sky High Wilderness Ranch, Canada

Have you ever wanted to learn to drive your own dog sled team? Sky High Wilderness Ranch in the Yukon of Canada run multiple trips where you can learn to mush. Not only do you learn the sledding, you also learn how to care for your dogs. Their experienced instructors make it easy to learn and as long as you listen and do what they ask, you will be sledding over the frozen tundra before too long.


How I Came To Be Learning To Dog Sled

I was looking for somewhere to try and see the Aurora and had researched that the time I would be in Canada should be the best time for a few years. Knowing this I planned my northern hemisphere travels around this date, however when I started looking for somewhere to try to see it – wow it is EXPENSIVE!

What I did come across though was various dog sledding adventures in the Yukon in northern Canada. I figured that I would learn to drive a dog sled team AND get to see the Aurora. How amazing!


A Brief Overview of What You Will Learn.

As my time was limited I opted for the 7 day mushing adventure during which I learnt to harness and connect my team, drive them through the tracks and trails, feed and care for them, and most of all enjoy the wilderness while being pulled across the white expanse of the Yukon by my very own dog team.

During the week I spent at Sky High, I had 3 different instructors which was a fantastic idea. They each impart their knowledge a little differently so you find yourself picking up different things from each of them.

It was an incredible experience and even some upsetting events didn't take away from how amazing it was.

if you want to go mushing learning from the best is important. You won't regret booking your trip to Sky High's ranch.

The WC at Sky High Wilderness Ranch
The WC at Sky High Wilderness Ranch. Its a whole other thing going to the loo in minus 30!

Day 1 and 2 On the Ranch – Learning the Basics

There were about 10 I would say on this trip and we were split into two teams after our first venture out. Actually now that I think about it, the Sky High crew had split us up before that we just didn't realise. Our first hour was spent learning about the sleds and dogs and while it was handled very well there were three things impressed upon us firmly.

  1. Never let go of the sled &
  2. If you cannot stop completely speak up. You must be able to stop in all conditions.
  3. Never ever overtake another team.

You don't let go of the sled because of course the dogs will just keep running and your guide will have to chase them down with their team causing the rest of the crew to be stuck in the cold waiting for the guide to return. The other reason is that the dogs fight so you can't get yourself in a position where two teams of dogs are level. It will just spiral out of control.

So three things not to do or at least speak up if you can't do it.

Our first run was out and around the lake and was pretty easy I must say. Having to set up and break down your own team was the hardest thing of the day. I loved how we were fully responsible for our own team and even fed them. It was a great start for sure.

My team on the drop chain
My team on the drop chain. Probably the hardest thing to get the hang of.

Day 3 on the ranch

The spring thaw arriving about 6 weeks early caused quite a headache to the Sky High team. We didn't really know what a drama it was (they were expert at hiding it) however our second day out we did a trail that they usually do only the day prior to you heading up to camp.

This meant we did very much get a condensed training course over some very bumpy trails but they were amazing for every step of it. I hit the deck on one sharp turn and as soon as I hit the ground (it wasn't soft snow either) my hand popped open and I let go of my sled. I screamed as loud as I could and thankfully our guide managed to block their path with her team and all was OK.

I held it all the way to the ground but my hand hit the road and involuntarily just popped open. I was mortified, but Michaela our guide said she was happy that I'd yelled to let her know and she'd managed to stop them. Phew!

We continued up over another very bumpy track and all made it back to the ranch OK. There was four on my crew. A German couple and another single lady like me from Italy.

The Verandah on the lodge
The Verandah on the lodge, a great place for an afternoon wine.

Day 4 Up to Mount Bonneville

Day four saw us heading up to Mount Bonneville which is about 3-4 hours mushing all up I would say. We had a different guide today and I learn some new things which was great. I loved the way they mixed up the guides. It really gives you a chance to see how different people do it and you learn heaps more.

During the course of the day we had a few challenges with the other single woman in our group passing people. I thought it was strange but you don't ever really leave you team, so even when we stop for snacks or lunch, you turn your sled over and sit on it so your team can't take of with it.

Because of the fact that you are learners and you can't leave your team, you don't really get the chance to talk to others with you. You do have ice pics that secure your sled in place, but you only have one and you need at least 2 to make sure the dogs can't pull it out of the snow and take off.

The guides all have two very high quality picks but we only get one and it isn't as good. So you can walk around your sled to get your lunch out etc but if you need to pee, you have to tell the guide so they can come and look after your sled while you run into the bushes.

Me and my team on top of Mount Bonneville
Me and my team on top of Mount Bonneville

Me on top of Bonneville with my team. I remember stacking it really hard at the bottom of a hill (I stopped braking too early) and being so very proud of myself that I hung on to my sled. I finally got my shit together and got up only to see Rugar looking at me with this ultimate look of pity on his face. I know dogs expressions and he was thinking “oh struth how did we get this unco??”.

Anyway I digress. When we got to the top of the mountain the other woman passed me and next time we stopped she was right next to me. I did ask then about why she was passing everyone (there had been more than a few snarls from my team) and she told me she couldn't stop her team.

OMG – that was really dangerous so I mentioned that I thought she should tell our guide before we got going again.

I saw him talking to her so assumed they had solved it and never thought anything more about it.

Unfortunately, she hadn't actually said anything!

We had a massive hill coming down off Mt Bonneville and our guide told us all how to do it and headed off first. The biggest challenge would be that because of the early snow thaw we would have to really hang on over any patches of ground that weren't snow covered. He explained everything really well and I was actually quite excited to be heading down a big hill.

I was next and immediately turned to her and ask if she could give me at least a minute before she followed as I was already concerned about the non stopping thing. She was yelling something at me but I couldn't hear her over the wind. Turns out she was yelling that she couldn't hold her dogs and literally started down within a few seconds of me.

I was maybe 25 meteres into the hill and doing really well I might add when she smashed right into the back of me with her sled crashing full tilt into the back of my heel. I got thrown off but somehow still managed to hang on to my sled!

There were dogs tangled everywhere and the guide had to come sprinting back up the hill to get the rest of the teams down. What a frigging nightmare.

While I managed to keep going, it was really hurting and I pretty much straight away knew I was injured. I thought it was just bruised, but an xray a few months later (after an extended recovery period) told a different story. I had a cracked heel bone.

The result of this injury was that the rest of the group went to top camp without me and I had to stay at the lodge for 3 days and stay off my very bruised foot.

I've not been that angry in a very long time – and you know what – rightfully so I think.

Accidents happen and I have no challenge with that but the fact that we had been told over and over and over again that stopping was the most important thing and that she neglected to tell anyone and consequently I paid the price, that was what pushed me over the edge.

Cest La Vie – it means I can go back and have some experience for the 14 day trip. Mwaa haa haa ha!

Me and my team sledding across the lake before the foot injury
Me and my team sledding across the lake before the foot injury

Jenny Marsden - Charge The Globe
About the author

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My Recommendations for Dog Sledding:

The crew all told me that February was probably the best time to go. It is consistently the coldest but apparently its a lot quieter and the trails are amazing. Consistently cold translates to -20 or -30 though.

Far out – how do you go to the loo in that??

These are my recommendations for the weeks sledding:

  • If you can justify the expense (or will use them again) take your own boots. They have boots but with my dodgy feet they flat out wouldn't have worked for the week. I was lucky it was mild weather and I could use my own trekking boots with really good socks, however good quality snow boots would put you in good stead. Consider the temperatures though: down to -30 possibly.
  • Use their jackets and gloves – they are rated for what you need and well worth the small hire cost.
  • Put the time into your dogs. You are shown how to put them on and off the drop chain and the sled and also how to feed them afterwards. I would go down way early and cuddle my dogs and give them a brush. I really felt like they noticed the effort I put in and were recognizing me in only a day or two.
  • Try to get up for at least one sunrise. The sunsets were amazing but the sunrises were even better.
  • Try to get up to Dawson City if you can afterward. Its a nothing town but its very cool at the same time. Everything is on a tilt (especially the pub) which is something to do with the land subsiding. I can't remember but I went up after for just two days and loved it. Possibly impassable in the dead of winter though.
  • One whole day in Whitehorse is probably enough. Not a lot there and you can see it in a day.
  • Listen. Listen and Listen. You can't ask too many questions and the guides are all amazing. You learn something different of each one so over the week you will pickup heaps as you go along.
  • You can't take photos when you are underway so unless you have a go pro and a really good helmet mount, its possible that you won't get photos of you with your team unless you ask someone else to take them. You can't drive sleds one handed so you can't take pics of yourself.
Mikaela's Team
Mikaela, one of our guides, having lunch.

How To Get To Whitehorse

The ranch is outside of Whitehorse and the staff will pick you up from the town centre. Flights to and from Vancouver are around j$420 AUD with Air North and double that with Air Canada. Air North run a morning flight, one just after lunch and one at around 9pm.


Accommodation Before And After The Trip

Your last nights accommodation is included with the trip price so its only the night prior to the trip that you have to be responsible for. I would recommend booking in at the Whitehorse Hotel. Its a good level of accommodation and meals are right there in the hotel bistro.

Search for Accommodation In Whitehorse

whitehorseaccommodation

More Info On Learning To Dog Sled In The Yukon

Sky High Wilderness Ranch has multiple options for learning to mush from 3 days to 14 days. I did this 7 day Husky Adventure and loved it.

Currently (October 2023) it is priced at $2717 + gst which is a great price. The trip includes all your meals while at the ranch and runs from Saturday to Saturday.

Scenery over the mountain range at Sky High Wilderness Ranch
The stunning scenery

My Dogs

This post wouldn't be the same without mentioning my dogs. Max, Mayo, Morning and the very lively Ruger dragged me across frozen lakes, up hills, down again with never a missed step.

I love them all!

Ruger
Ruger – one of my dogs
Mayo
Mayo – one of my dogs and secretly my favourite. He actually did the Yukon Quest with the ranch owner when he was younger.
Max
Max – a lead dog on my team
Morning
Morning the last dog on my team. How sweet is he?

Is Dog Sledding Dangerous

Like anything of course you could injure yourself, however you are taught well and as long as you listen to your guides and instructors you should be fine. I fell off multiple times, but its in the snow so it is for the most part a soft landing.

Does Sky High Cater To Dietary Restrictions

They can yes, however I would recommend getting in touch if you have something super specific. They ask for a doctors note specifying exactly what your intolerances or allergies are.

Do they do shorter dog sled trips?

Yes they do. There are 3 and 4 day learn to sled adventures, but they also do a few half and full day trips. Check out the half day trips.

Can I do a trip where I don't drive?

Yes you can. They have a Husky Rush which is a sled driven by one of their experts. You sit in the sled with your partner and/or kids and just enjoy the ride.

Is alcohol Included?

No. There is no alcohol included in the trip, however they are usually happy to stop at the bottleshop on the way out of Whitehorse for you to purchase a bottle of wine or something else you might like. They don't encourage large quantities of alcohol (animals are involved), but they are happy for you to have a glass or two each night should you bring your own along.

How fit do I have to be to dog sled

You do need some level of fitness for sure. Its not a stand and get dragged type of adventure. You need to run with your dogs up a hill here and there, you need to have strong legs to brace on the corners and the downhills and of course you are standing for hours at a time. You don't have to be able to run for an hour or anything like that but a reasonable level of fitness will put you in good stead.

Do I need a sleeping bag?

If you do the 7, 10 or 14 day trips yes you will. The ranch has sleeping bags you can hire so don't feel the need to bring one from home.

Check out my Canada Destination Page for all the info, posts & places to visit in Canada.