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A quick guide on dog sledding

Turning:

As with biking or skiing, balance your body-weight in the direction of the turn; lean your body towards the left when the bend turns left, to the right when the bend turns right. Your weight should primarily be on the inside runner but you will need to keep a bit of weight on the outside runner (as you do on the outside pedal when biking) to counteract the possibility of the sled tipping inwards.

Do all of this while keeping your feet on the skis and your hands on the handle-bar. In other words, if you think that you are going to need to reduce speed in order to take the turn safely, break before you get to the turn and then balance your body strongly, for the turn itself. This is particularly important before tight turns or turns in which snow is banked on one side. Sometimes the turn is so tight that you have to almost stop the team and then run the sled around the corner before the dogs tug on it again, to avoid it over-turning. But most turns are easy and you can make it by simply lowering your centre of gravity by crouching down and possibly altering the position of your feet on the runners. All of this will be explained to you, as appropriate, during your pre-safari training. We will warn you if there is a particular need to pay attention.

Control of speed and stopping

• The brake is situated at foot level, between the skis. The harder you press, the more resistance is applied to the dogs. Use the break to ensure that there is at least a 10m gap between you and the team in front, and to reduce your speed before taking turns. Use it also on descents to ensure that the sleigh doesn’t overtake and injure the dogs and to prevent it sliding out sideways.

• NB The 10m security gap is because the dogs are naturally competitive and want to pass each other, or at least stop side by side, but when they do so, unsupervised, there is a high chance that they will fight or get tangled.

• To stop, it is advisable to place two feet on the brake (and maybe pull upwards, hard, if light-weight) and to keep that position for as long as you wish your dogs to be stationary.

Counter-balancing

• All of our routes follow tracks that we work hard to maintain in good condition. Whilst you might not actually notice this during your safari, you would definitely notice it if we didn’t put in this work. It is definitely one of the many points of differentiation between our farm and many others.

• On either side of these groomed pistes, however, the snow is softer and more powdery. In some conditions, it can be difficult to make out the hard track and in others, the sleigh can simply start heading towards the soft sides if you are unbalanced. When this happens, the sleigh will often start to tip outwards and potentially get stuck. If you feel that happening, immediately counterbalance by placing two feet and all your weight on the opposite runner, (if the sledge is leaning to the right of the track, place your feet on the left runner etc) and gently pull the sleigh in that direction. This action, combined with the force of traction of the dogs will automatically pull the sledge back onto the harder track.

• Whatever you do, even if you end up on your knees, with the sledge tilting almost impossibly on its side, don’t let go. If it overturns, the guide will help you. However, it is more likely that the forward momentum of the dogs combined with your helping force in the correct direction will right the sleigh and you can continue on the next phase of your adventure.

Ascents and descents

• When there is a steep up-hill section in the trail, don’t hesitate to help your team by pushing on one leg, as if you are on a scooter, or maybe even walking or running behind the sledge (whilst keeping your hands firmly on the handle-bar).

• The huskies will know quite quickly if you are a good musher or not and they will be testing you to see if you are aware of and responsive to, their needs during your first couple of outings with them.

• When descending, it is recommended to brake and even to have one foot lightly, but constantly, on the brake if the side is steep or long. This will help to prevent the sleigh slipping sideways under you and it will also ensure that you do not hit the dogs.

Surveillance of your team

Each driver is responsible for his or her team during the safari and it is important to always keep an eye on the dogs. If you see anything untoward or even anything that you are not sure of, please err on the side of caution and call for help from a guide. Common problems to watch out for, include:

• The leaders starting more slowly than the two swing dogs and the line therefore getting tangled (you can reduce the likelihood of this by keeping one foot lightly on the break when you start off to ensure that the gang line is always taut).

• The wheel dogs getting their legs stuck in the line or neckline.

• A dog running on 2 or 3 legs (this indicates that they are either trapped in the line, somehow, or that they have injured one paw or leg).

• A dog being carried through the snow on its back by the momentum of the other dogs (this can happen if a dog has tumbled into the loose snow outside of the tracks and has lost his footing. You can generally just stop and allow the dog to right itself again, and it is normally fine, but double check for lines wrapped around legs, or neck chains that have become too tight as a result).

• A dog is constantly shaking his head or looking backwards all the time.

• Dogs relieving themselves. We teach them to ‘go on the run’ but some do this better than others. To help them, just break gently or completely and allow them to resume their place in the line once finished.

• NB: If you see two dogs running on the same side of the main line, this is not a problem. We try to train them out of this but some like the confidence of feeling another dog running close by (whether the other dog really appreciates it or not).

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