Snow streaked mountain peaks loom in the distance behind the thick pine forest of Banff National Park. The day is warm. An air of spring glimmers in the sunlight reflecting off the last of winter’s snow, and we are gliding down a trail behind a team of energetic Alaskan Huskies. The dogs are lithe and lean, and they pad happily down the trail, leaning over to take bites of snow when they get thirsty. It’s April here in Alberta, Canada, and we’re on one of the last dog sled tours of the year with Kingmik Dog Sled Tours in Lake Louise.This activity, so typically northern, was one we’d wanted to experience since arriving in Yellowknife last November. But after reading reviews of the outfitters up north, and knowing what -35° feels like without adding the wind chill of being pulled on a sled through the cold, we opted for a Lake Louise tour as our northern winter came to a close. Kingmik’s tour runs right through Banff National Park. Starting from the pickup point just off the road to Lake Louise and the Fairmont Chateau, the tour crosses to the Alberta/BC border (also the continental divide) on what used to be the Trans Canada Highway. The roadway now is used only for dog sledding and cross-country skiing in winter, and hiking and biking in summer.The Alaskan Huskies are completely unsatisfied to stand still. As we prepared to get on the trail, the antsy dogs tethered to their lines yipped and howled. They strained against their harnesses, jumped and whined, and then at the OK of our driver, they burst into action running.
As we paused for a break, they rolled around and liked a few pats and scratches, but were soon itching to get moving again. These dogs are built for this, and boy do they love it.
The Kingmik dogs run three tours every day, sometimes four, and many of them compete in long distance sled races each winter, like the Iditarod in Alaska. They’ve got incredible energy and endurance, can run prolific distances, and are affectionate and good-natured to boot.
Behind the cheerful team, we were snug in the sled to enjoy this ride for an hour and a half.Our dog sledding experience couldn’t have been more ideal: a mostly sunny day, a skilled driver, incredible wilderness all around. But while we were in this picturesque landscape, I thought a lot about people who have relied on dog sledding teams in much worse weather as the only option for travel…
Across the arctic tundra for thousands of years, in unimaginably cold and unforgiving weather, fiercely loyal and enduring dogs have been harnessed for transportation, protection, and companionship. I have a huge amount of respect for the dogs’ strength and high spirits, but also for the people who breed and train these animals to accomplish feats of exploration, long distance speed, and survival in some of the world’s harshest winter climates.
Banff’s Rocky Mountains are a beautiful backdrop for this northern adventure, but with Canada’s rich heritage of dog sledding, winter tours like this can be found across the country.