When I was younger, I saw a video of thick-coated huskies pulling sledges across snowy mountains. These elegant canines commanded respect and admiration, but growing up in Malaysia, the Arctic was an unreachable and exotic place for me, and an encounter with these furry creatures was nearly impossible. So when I went to Tromsø, northern Norway, it felt like a dream come true. Seeing the stunning landscape of fjords, mountains, alpine trees and the Norwegian sea was an extraordinary visual feast, but my real Arctic adventure began when I met my canine heroes.
We chose Tromsø Villmarkssenter as they offered a generous daytime dog-sledding tour package, including transportation, warm thermal clothes, coffee, tea and a meal inside a warm Sámi tent. The day began with persisting snowfall as we were driven to Villmarkssenter at Kvaløysletta on a minibus. On arrival, we saw a number of reconstructed Sámi tents, or lavvu, with an interior of multiple wooden seats draped with reindeer hides arranged around a real log fire in the middle.
Since there were around 30 of us on this tour, we were divided into two groups. While changing into our warm outdoor gear of snow suit, hat, gloves, mittens and insulated snow boots, I could hear the huskies barking excitedly outside. The anticipation mounted as the first group left to start sledging while the second group, which I was in, was given a tour around the center.
There was an overpowering husky smell around the changing area, which was only to be expected with 270 huskies living on site. At first sight, I was overwhelmed by the number of husky kennels, each containing two dogs with respective name tags. They were Alaskan huskies and apparently possess a more docile temperament and leaner bodies than Siberian huskies. When they were seven months old, their training began in a relaxed manner which gradually increase in intensity as they get older. Throughout their development, it would become apparent which personality they adapt to and play in the dog-sled team -- the leader dogs are the bigger, bravest and quickest, the swing dogs are flexible and agile, the team dogs are happy, yelping follower dogs, and the wheel dogs are the strongest as they have the heaviest load to pull. The dogs were very friendly, curious and loved to be patted, which made for a very enjoyable first encounter for me. While waiting for the first group to finish sledding, we kept warm in the lavvu and helped ourselves to some mouth-watering chocolate brownies with coconut flakes on top and some coffee brewed in tin kettles over a real fire.
When we arrived at the sledding site, the dogs were already attached to the sleds from the previous group. One could tell that the dogs were feeling hot, as they attempted to cool down by rolling around, hoping to cover their bodies and snouts in snow. They were excited, yelping, howling like a pack of wolves and raring to go. I got into a sled driven by an Austrian muster, who instructed us to keep our limbs within the sled and taught us how to manoeuvre our bodies along with the direction that the sled swung. A fair few who were organised enough to book in advance to drive their own sleds managed to do so.
As the dogs set off, we were pulled in the opposite direction of the heavy snow which sprayed our faces and eyes. Riding at eight to 15 miles per hour, it was an exhilarating experience made fresher by the heavy snowfall. The ride was smooth with the odd bump along the way, which was rectified by our skilled muster. The huskies appeared to love what they were doing and were at their most peaceful when they were on the move. After sledding for an hour, we disembarked, the dogs were released and given a nice meal and drink as a reward for their hard work.
After removing our snow gear, we went back to the tent where the tour culminated with a typical Sámi meal in the lavvu. On the menu was reindeer stew, which had been cooking since we arrived. We were given a cup of delicious consommé soup as a starter, which had an aromatic, peppery flavor that warmed us up. The main meal was stewed reindeer meat, which fell off easily when pricked with a fork and was served with carrots and potatoes. Meat eaters appeared to like it, but since I was a vegetarian who had forgotten to request the vegetarian option I ate my vegetables and had more of the chocolate brownie instead. After a cup of coffee, it was time to hop back into the minibus and return to the hotel.
This thrilling experience with the amiable huskies left me with a buoyancy that gave me the spring in my steps for the rest of the day. I would recommend this polar expedition to anyone who wants to get acquainted with the wild side of Norwegian adventures. Flights to Tromso Airport Langness depart from London, Oslo, Russia, Sweden. One can also combine travel with aurora-chasing on the Hurtigruten NordNorge.