In February 2005, ignoring the tropical migratory patterns of most winter travelers, I boarded a Finnair plane (“Santa’s official airline”) bound for Helsinki. Final destination? The tiny town of Kittila, a winter sports wonderland in Finland’s icy Lapland province, where reindeer outnumber humans five to one.
Feasting on an unusual yet hearty in-flight lunch of moose casserole and herb-marinated wild boar, I pondered the item at the top of my to-do list: Mush a team of huskies through the frozen forest above the arctic circle. It’ll be just like Alaska’s famed Iditarod race, I imagined. After sledding through the finish line, loyal canines will lap at my wind-burned face as spectators shower me with champagne.
Arriving in Kittila, an additional one-hour flight from Helsinki, was like landing on another planet. Planes were being hosed down with a curious liquid resembling Orange Crush soda. “It’s antifreeze,” chirped Kim, one of my guides. Not comforting. The surrounding pine trees were sheathed in sparkling Dr. Zhivago–art-department-approved frost. Magical? Yes. Capable of supporting human life? Not in my estimation.
Thankfully our tour group’s five-bedroom lodge, replete with two saunas, a freezer stocked with Finlandia vodka, and a telescope for analyzing the aurora borealis (the northern lights), was the lap of Lapland luxury, highly suited for weathering the sparsely sunny days ahead. Suddenly the thought of going outside to drive a team of wild dogs through the piercing air (20 below 0 Fahrenheit) had completely lost all its glamour. My Iditarod fantasy gave way to the icy image of Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining.
Nevertheless, as the reluctant sun crept over the horizon at 9 a.m., we suited up in our specially provided all-in-one insulated jumpsuits (an epic 10-minute undertaking in itself) and left our cocoon for the 20-minute ride to the husky farm. The snowy landscape was still and silent. Then, penetrating the windows of the shuttle bus, the sound of 100 barking, howling dogs grew from a faint rumble into a frantic roar. We were running late and the dogs, crossbreeds of wild wolf and domesticated husky, were ready to ride.
The complete article appears in the January/February 2006 issue of The Out Traveler.
PLAN YOUR ADVENTURE
Finnair (800-950-5000) offers direct flights from New York City to Helsinki. Getting to Kittila requires an additional one-hour flight from Helsinki. Levi Village (011-358-16-639-3300), a rapidly expanding winter sports development located nine miles from the Kittila airport, offers restaurants, shops, a variety of accommodations, and an assortment of winter activities. With an outpost in Levi Village, Lapland Safaris (011-358-16-654-222) offers a three- or four-hour snowmobile and dogsledding combo trip for $153, through April 30. Visit OutTraveler.com for more information.
You don’t have to venture above the arctic circle to mush like a pro. From Colorado to Canada, here’s a selection of North American companies offering dogsledding tours:
Jackson Hole, Wyo. Continental Divide Dogsled Adventures (800-531-6874) offers all-inclusive half-day tours for $145, full day combination snowmobile and dogsled tours for $295, and custom overnight adventures (one night, $540; two nights, $1,450) through early April.
Aspen–Snowmass Village, Colo. Krabloonik (970-923-4342) offers a two-hour ride with an experienced “musher” for $225, three-course lunch included. Each sled can seat two adults and one child. Through April.
Eden Mills, Vt. Eden Mountain Dogsledding (802-635-9070) offers a number of variations on the dogsled theme. Beyond regular solo dogsled tours for $300, they offer “skijoring” (dog-propelled cross country skiing) for $250. When the snow melts, you can go “dog carting” (a dog-pulled cart on wheels) for $45. Through April.
Fairbanks, Alaska Chena Hot Springs (800-478-4681) offers 15-minute rides with a veteran Iditarod musher for $50. You can learn how to mush your own team of dogs for $280. Inspired by the creations at the resort’s Stoli Ice Bar? You can take an ice-sculpting class for $1,800. Through April.
Whistler, Canada The Whistler-Blackcomb Ski Resort (866-218-9690) offers a four-hour tour through the Soo Valley Wildlife Preserve for $470 for a sled that seats two adults. Through April 15.