Minus-degree temperatures, chilly winds, thick snow. Now these are not exactly perfect conditions to travel– unless of course, you’re being pulled by huskies on a sled. And even so, I got frost in my eyes, messy wind-blown hair, frozen fingers, and a slightly bruised bum from the rough, bumpy ride.
It was fantastic. One of the most exhilarating rides I’ve ever been on.
I rode the husky sled in the thick of winter on my trip to Tromso, a city perched along the Arctic Circle in the north of Norway. I spent 2 whole days in the city. The main purpose of my trip was to see the northern lights (Read about it here: Chasing the Aurora Borealis); but since we were lucky enough to witness the gorgeous light display on the first day, we used the second day to visit the huskies.
The husky tour is a must-do when you’re high up in the most northern part of the world– you’ll only find them here because it’s where they live!
There are tons of husky sledding tours available in Tromso, from half-day and full day tours to overnight and combination tours– you can take your pick according to your schedule. My family and I chose a half-day tour with Tromso Villmarkssenter. The tour offers a visit to the dog kennels, a 1-hour sledding experience and a traditional Sami (the local indigenous people of the north) meal in a sami hut, from NOK1,490-1,690 (US$165-190) per person, depending on dates.
The Tromso Villmarkssenter is located about half an hour away from Tromso. We were picked up by bus from the city center at 9am in the morning, and were back by 2pm in the afternoon. The tour is approximately a 4-hour tour.
Upon arrival at the centre, we were ushered in to the warmth of the reception area. During our visit, the weather in Tromso was rainy with fluctuating temperatures– so the entire area was icy and slippery. It was really difficult trying to maintain my balance, I was sliding all over the place! Some people even fell!
After gearing up in the rented winter suits and boots, our guide took us to the first stop, the husky kennels– a wide open space with wooden twin kennels, all neatly arrange a good distance from each other. All the kennels have names on them, belonging to the 200+ huskies that live here.
The huskies in this part of Norway are not the furry species, they look more like regular dogs, with slight wolf-like features. One of the questions brought up to our guide was about the chains around them– apparently it is to prevent them from fighting and hurting, or killing each other.
The huskies are extremely friendly with people though, and we were allowed to stroke and pet them. I even got to cuddle one of the little puppies, who shyly snuggled in my arms. So adorable!
When it was time, we were taken to a large open snowy area next to the centre. Time for our husky sledding experience! We watched in awe as the huskies came running towards us from the distance, sled and musher in tow… and stopped right where we were. They started making so much noise and ruckus as soon as they stopped because they wanted to continue running in the snow.
Each sled can carry two people but since our group was an odd number, they allowed three of us (my sisters and I) to sit together in one sled. We were placed at the front of the pack– our huskies were going to lead the way!
We later found out that the 8 huskies (it’s usually 10) pulling us were championship race huskies; and our musher was the owner of Tromso Villmarkssenter, Tove Sorensen. She has over 20 years of experience with dog sledding, taking part in some of the longest dog sled races in Europe and Alaska. It was just amazing watching her in her element.
Into the Wilderness
As soon as the mushers gave their cue, the dogs stopped barking and were excitedly on their way. I could see that they absolutely love the snow, and all they wanted was to feel the cold underneath their feet. And boy, are they fast.
We zoomed through the winter wilderness, leaving footprints and sled lines along the way. The dogs ran like the wind; they turned left or right on command, and jumped across small streams and puddles of melted ice. We passed barren trees and scrubs, fields of pure white snow, and we also made a stop at the top of a hill overlooking a gorgeous view of the city and the sea.
It was an invigorating ride– the three of us were shouting, screaming and laughing in delight most of the way. Of course it wasn’t all that comfy, but the cold, numb and disheveled mess we were left in was all worth it. So much fun!
Freezing but still pumping from the husky sled ride, it was time to head to lunch. Our tour included a traditional Sami meal in a gamme (Sami hut). Upon entering, we were greeted by the warmth and comfort of a fireplace burning in the middle of the hut. It gave the place an eerie red glow, and a smell of burnt firewood. Our lunch was a simple meal of reindeer stew, served with bread and coffee.
The Sami people are the indigenous people who live in the Arctic area of Scandinavia. Also known as the laplanders, their most popular source of livelihood is reindeer herding; they use them as means of transportation, as well as for their fur and meat.
Our reindeer stew lunch was delicious– the meat was pretty tough and gamey, but the soup was thick and flavourful. We had a good meal.
After lunch, it was time to leave Tromso Villmarkssenter and head back to the city. I had a wonderful experience meeting the huskies, riding the sleds and having a lovely Sami meal. The half day tour was just perfect for a little insight into the lives of the people (and animals) living in this part of the world.
Oh, and when we were leaving… it snowed!