Perhaps the most exhilarating experience while dog sledding is the immediate silence that follows the anticipation and build up before departure. And it’s not just the sledders that are pumped up for the trip.
Evidently excited for a run (and in the wondrous wilderness of the Columbia Valley, it’s hard to blame them) the canine crew at Golden Dog Sled Adventures yelps, howls and barks their excitement in the moments before take off. It seems chaotic, but musher/handler Matt Parr and Jill Brown (who co-own the operation) have everything under control, exhibiting a remarkable command over the team that they’ve just recently put together.
Still, it’s a bit noisy as the dogs get harnessed up and brought into position at the front of the sled.
But then, near silence.
Like an F1 car at the start of a Grand Prix, the dogs bolt from a standstill, quickly reaching max speed as they power their way through the beginning of the trail. However, unlike a race car, the dogs are as silent as the still winter landscape that surrounds them. The sounds of their paws fluttering across the snow packed trail is all the noise that remains.
The early sprint is not a sustainable pace, and Parr reigns them back towards a comfortable, but rapid trot.
Today we are eight, Parr leading from the back, myself in the warm, cozy confines of the handcrafted sled taking it all in, and six dogs supplying the power. Voulk and Kona, Alaskan Huskies with pure white fur, are in front as the lead dogs, typically reserved for the smartest of the team. In the middle are Bear and Grizz, a pair of Siberian Husky brothers who are just 16 months old and inseparable from one another. Finally, at the back are Pippen and Shadow, the most powerful dogs on the team and the sled’s strongest engines.
When we arrive at a fork in the trail, Parr instructs the team to take the left hand option. Despite relative inexperience, the team obeys rather smartly.
Still working their way towards top shape, the six require just a single, 30 second break throughout our half-hour training run.
“Thirty seconds for them is like twenty minutes for us,” Parr explained. “It’s unbelievable.”
Parr and Brown have 14 dogs in all, eight Siberians, five Alaskans and one Norwegian Elk Hound, a pet who doesn’t run alongside her quicker, stronger cousins.
The couple met while working at the same outdoor adventure company in Squamish, with Parr having discovered a passion for dog sledding by complete accident.
“I was a snowshoe guide…(one day) they needed a musher to fill-in,” Parr recalled. “It was my first time on a dog sled. No training and the dogs were already hooked up. It was basically grab it and go.”
Brown was raised in Manitoba and her passion for the outdoors and photography eventually brought her to B.C.
“(Growing up) I was just really in touch with nature and animals…I always had a love for animals and always wanted to be around them in some way,” she said.
Golden Dog Sled Adventures is the first of its kind in the area, but that wasn’t the only reason that the couple found Golden to be an attractive location to set up their own business.
“When you roll into Golden from the pass, you see it’s a huge flat, open valley. That’s mushers paradise,” Parr said. “(As well) the amount of snow that we get and the condition of the snow, it’s powder heaven here.”
Located a few minutes off the Trans-Canada Highway in Donald, the dogs are running a few different trails this year and the couple plans to carve out several more over the summer. While the sledding is the highlight, guests are treated to a fully interactive experience that includes harnessing the dogs, learning about mushing and the commands that keep the dogs on the right path, while also rewarding them with a treat at the end of the run.
And just like that early sprint, as soon as the company’s small mobile hut comes into full view, the dogs deliver a finishing kick back home that would befit a runner in the Boston Marathon.
Minutes later, the dogs are collectively champing at the bit, eager to go once more.