Monday, December 27, 2010


In a world of drifting snow I was greeted by a noisy mix of Malamutes and Huskies at a sled site outside of Quebec city.  Already in harness, the excited dogs awaited 'wannabe' mushers and sledders.

Before boarding my flimsy transport I was drawn to the pen housing progeny of the trained working dogs. The puppies were fat roly-poly bundles of creamy fur . Wriggling with delight,  they licked and nuzzled at any face that came within tongue's reach.

Given basic instruction by a guide at Aventure Inukshuk on how to handle the sled, our tour group were then warned that if the musher for any reason abandoned the sled, nothing would stop the dogs.

The guide, it seemed, delighted most in instructing his apprehensive first-timers on how to vacate the sled should the musher fall from his or her post and leave us – the out of control sled riders - to the energetic machinations of six trained-to-pull Huskies!!

Ready to go, my travel companion Melissa acting as musher stood with one foot on the skate the other on the brake. I was ensconced on a damp black cushion and covered waist to toe with a gray blanket dappled with fast melting snowflakes. All about me ice crystals danced in the air and the excited dogs yelped, barked and keened.

The head musher and leader balanced on the back of his sled, raised his arm alerting us to take-off,  then suddenly he surged forward. Following behind, each sled in turn shot like an arrow from a bow and we slipped with effortless speed onto the narrow trail, into the still white forest.

Snow-laden fir branches, drooping like weary dancers, brushed against us as we rushed by. Feathery snowflakes, as if from a burst pillow, drifted down and settled on my face. The trail ahead twisted and turned, a sleek icy ribbon through an avenue of conifers.

Most of the dogs quietened, although our back pair, especially the female, was vocal still. Her bark was high, penetrating, bordering on hysteria. Maybe her role was that of a 'cheerleader', in a canine way encouraging the others to further exert themselves.

Each of our six dogs it seemed, had their own distinctive style. The first two, the leaders, were excited. When we stopped for a moment the dog on the right somehow managed to maneuver himself, in spite of being harnessed, onto the far side of the left dog. He lifted his leg and did a quick pee on the snow bank, trailing a steaming shaky golden dribble for a meter or so.

The middle two seemed the more sensible of the team. Heads bowed, bodies tense, they were ready to go when signaled, and they ran straight and true.

The back two, the strongest, and to my eyes the most comical had very definite traits. “Right” had a heavy rear end and his run bordered on a waddle. “Left's hind quarters tended towards the snow bank while her head kept towards the middle. She ran a crab-like course, moving forward with determined vigor but in a slight sideways motion. Yelping hysterically she became particularly vociferous when we stopped. Then, with an appetite for snow that would freeze a human's innards, she gulped mouthfuls as if it were some delicious doggy treat.

The males in the different teams were involved in intermittent confrontations. Like their testosterone-laden human counterparts they seemed ever-ready for a skirmish.

Each time we paused at least one of the dogs rolled over in a mound of snow, legs extended skyward, heavily furred back squirming vigorously in a canine version of 'snow angels'. This was their world – below freezing temperatures, snow and ice, running and pulling. .

As we raced through the forest the sled in front of ours slid sideways into a slow collapse. The passenger tumbled from the lopsided seat. For a moment the acting musher took her foot from the brake and the team bounded away with the abandoned pair in hot pursuit.

Our four mile adventure ended all too soon. The memory of that still white forest, the hiss of the sled's skates on packed snow and the impatient yodeling of Huskies – these sounds will forever remind me of Quebec and the pleasures of a Canadian winter.

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday, 27th December, 2010


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