Q: When does your season start and how long do you operate?
A: Our season generally starts at the beginning of November. Given that we are a weather dependent company we need to await Mother Nature’s delivery of her precious “white gold”. Our season will typically last until the end of April depending on snow conditions. In the summer our huskies relax and enjoy their “spa time”. We do offer summer kennel tours as well, from mid June to mid October. You can read more about our Dog Daze of Summer here
Q: Discounts or sales?
A: As industry leaders we truly do provide the best rates for the best product! It may sound appealing to receive a discounted rate on your dog sledding tour. However, the industry of dog sledding cannot be comparable to that of the snowmobile industry for example. A snowmobile only requires seasonal, six-month care compared to our sled dogs that require careful attention 365 days a year. Therefore our annual overhead is much, much higher in caring for dogs vs. snowmobiles. This is the main reason that we are very careful when offering discounts as it has the potential to compromise the very important high standard of care our huskies receive. In our company, our huskies are the most important dynamic in the success of our company, without them we simply would not have a business; as such we must ensure we provide the best quality care to them year round; this is something we cannot and will not compromise, which is the exact reason we are considered the most reputable company. In addition to this, our company contributes to many charitable organizations, etc. to support our communities in other very important ways. As a seasonal company we price our tours to benefit you, the four legged team of Snowy Owl as well as our important two legged team. Cheaper is not necessarily the better option!
Q: What should we wear and bring?
A: We ask all our participants to dress as if they were going skiing. Snow pants, winter jackets, warm boots with a good grip, warm toque and gloves, scarf or balaclava, and warm under layers. If you do not have any of these items let your reservation agent know upon making your reservation. We will give you info on how to rent clothing at a location near you. We rent boots to those who will need them, for example if you are wearing sneakers, summer hiking boots, any boot/shoe that does not go above your ankle, high heels, and high heel boots. If you’re not sure how to dress click here
! If you would like, you can bring a small day pack with water, extra clothing, camera, sunscreen and Chap Stick. If you require any medication such as insulin or an inhaler, be sure you bring it along as the high elevation can have an adverse effect on some medical conditions.
Q: When is the best time to go dog sledding?
A: For your convenience we offer different touring departure times that suite your itinerary and your group! 9am offers guests “first tracks!” This is definitely the most pristine part of the day; the sun is just rising so a lot of the wildlife is active, this tour is also very exhilarating, a good way to jump start your day! 11am still offers guests an early start to their day but also the warmth of the sun while out on the trail in the Canadian Rockies. 1pm is the warmest part of the day and still enables you to enjoy a relaxing morning but an invigorating afternoon! 3pm offers guests a more relaxed, leisurely experience…we suggest finishing off with a nice dinner! Certain times of the year also offer a different experience…Christmas, Valentines, Easter and Spring Break are all very busy times for the entire tourism industry so expect to see many people enjoying a dog sledding adventure with our company. If your preference is for a quieter more exclusive program we recommend choosing a longer tour or a less travelled time in our season for example mid January or mid-week. Snow conditions are generally the best from mid January thought to mid April; please click here
for a more in depth analysis of our weather conditions in the Banff/Canmore area.
Q: Do we require experience to join a tour either riding with or driving a sled dog team?
A: There is no experience necessary! The reason for this is that our instructors
receive, at the very least, one month of extensive in- kennel training, which includes dog care and handling as well as an entire month of intensive safety, guest instruction and trail/sled training each season, no matter how many years they have worked with us! Also, we feel you should know that the type of training a “guide” receives compared to that of a “professional instructor” is evaluated at two very different levels as you can imagine. This is why your tour begins
with a very informative 30 minute introduction and instruction, as opposed the “learn as you go” methods. We understand that learning to drive a dog team is important and crucial to you prior to actually participating in the sport, providing you with a much more enjoyable and safer experience, before the sleds are actually moving! Our instructors will teach you how to safely drive the sled and manage our “touring” dog teams accordingly and then coach you at all times on tour. In fact with our comprehensive instruction, our guests inform us that they feel the sport of dog sledding is actually much easier to learn than skiing! Go figure! Because our huskies are also very well trained, our company can offer our guests the opportunity to drive their very own teams directly behind our instructors. This of course is an option, however a very popular one. The majority of our guest’s drive
their own dog team…they claim its mush
more fun than only riding or standing on the back of the sled! Some companies may choose not to offer these terrific options as they simply do not have the infrastructure within their company to do so. We all have a choice and our choice is to offer the best experience with every opportunity and option presented to you! We hope this busts the myths regarding driving dog teams that may circulate from time to time.
Here are some examples of what we’ll be covering:
- Brief history of the breeds and the sport of dog sledding.
- How to control and operate the sled safely.
- Proper demonstration of equipment you will be using to drive the sled.
- How to drive tandem. (2 people on the back driving.)
- ‘Rules of the trail’, for example: no passing the sled in front of you; use 2 feet to stop your sled and where we will be stopping to switch drivers.
- Commands to get your dogs to go, stop, pass distractions, slow down on the down hills and how to keep your team happy and positive.
Q: How many people per sleigh and do we get to drive our own team?
A: We like to keep the sled weights reasonable for the dogs so they are treated humanely. Each sled will carry up to 3 adults or around 500 pounds. Permitting our dogs to pull over crowded sleds by allowing 3 or more adult guests plus the addition of a guide are not practiced here. This is not the standard in our company! In addition as said, our instructors are very well trained and are able to adjust the dogs on our teams based on the weight of the sled to ensure a safe and fun tour for all! Here are your options:
- Relax in a cozy sled having one of our instructors drive your team.
- Drive the dog team (one-on-one) with one of our instructors.
- Or, drive your sled dog team with the company of your family or friends following your instructor.
As a family run operation, we understand how important it is to experience adventures together. With Snowy Owl, when you book as a group, we strive to keep your group together. When you make your reservation, ask how we can keep you and your group exclusive!
Q: Do we need to be physically fit to drive or ride a dog team?
A: To drive – you need to be in moderately good shape and willing to assist the dogs by jogging or peddling with one foot up the inclines. Because dog sledding is a sport, when driving your own team behind our instructors, it’s beneficial to have the ability to actually participate in the action of driving the team. When you’re driving on the back of the sled with one of our instructors, fitness is not as essential.
To ride– No, we recommend people with specific needs, infants and seniors request riding with our instructor’s teams to ensure your comfort and enjoyment. Children who are old enough and capable, can drive with an instructor or parent at the instructor’s professional discretion.
To put it into perspective, we are a company who believes in teaching our guests about “real” sled dog touring, not biased imitations. Dog sledders or companies who brag about not having to assist their dog teams up inclines when carrying weighted cargo are considered unprofessional and inhumane within the etiquette of the sport. Our sled dogs are not machines and definitely not meant to be taken advantage of! As said, our company creates an interdependent working relationship based on mutual respect for everyone concerned.
Q: Can anyone join the tours and what are the sleds like?
A: Absolutely! Because of our experience and expertise, everyone is welcome! Singles, expectant mothers, large groups, infants, guests with special conditions, etc! Snowy Owl sleds are equipped with a moisture resistant custom made cordura sled bag; they are lined with an 8 inch thick comfortable padding as well as luxurious velour blankets or soft goose down duvets. In addition, if you require extra comfort, please notify your reservation agent, as we are delighted to offer you beautiful, cozy sheep skins or extra blankets when required.
At Snowy Owl it is also mandatory to bundle our guests who are riding inside the sled, safely with security buckled attachments which are generally included as part of the sled design. In fact you should be aware that companies, who either don’t provide security straps on their sleds or simply don’t feel it’s important to even close and secure the sled bag for you, should be questioned.
Q: Will we receive any snacks or refreshments on tour?
A: Of course!! Each of our tours includes warming refreshments and a snack. Longer tours include a hot lunch, hot beverages and many tasty snacks! In addition to this, we are the only company in the area that provides a terrific, simple warming camp fire on all trips for our guests to enhance the ambiance, comfort, safety on colder days and your overall enjoyment!
Q: Will we see wildlife on the tours?
A: Since the animals can smell us before they see us, it is more the exception than the rule to see them. However, it is possible to have an encounter with a moose, deer, elk, coyote, lynx, wolf, cougar, squirrels or rabbits on the trail! Have your camera ready…they show up when you least expect it!
Q: Can we pet your huskies?
A: Certainly! Our huskies are our friends first and work associates second! They love attention and because we reward our huskies with lots of praise and love, that is what they are expecting!
Q: Does pulling a sled hurt the huskies?
A: There is no question that our huskies LOVE to run and pull! Because we have a limit of 3 people per sleigh and a sufficient number of REAL, traditional touring huskies pulling each sleigh to keep the work load light and enjoyable for them, they truly love what they do! There are dogs with jobs and then there are dogs that love their jobs! Our main trainers ensure our huskies have a healthy run/rest ratio by keeping track of when each dog runs, including the terrain and mileage involved. By doing this we are able to switch and change the teams up daily so that our dogs can enjoy running with a different partner, instead of set teams which prove to be very boring and even limiting for them! Our huskies also run on a large variety of trails as opposed to out and back on the same trail everyday. This also helps reinforce our rule of no fighting in our kennel which is truly an important asset on the trail. Because the dogs run with a different partner regularly, it creates better performing acceptance among them all. To put it bluntly, the dogs get more days off then we do! Even though these huskies are bred for pulling we never take advantage of this trait. If you have a close look over our site you will see that we go to great lengths in providing outstanding care from what our huskies eat to how much weight they pull! In the end, we’ll let you be the judge once you meet them in person! We care that you care!
Q: What breed of huskies do you use?
A: We are the only company that uses 4 traditional pure breeds of husky as opposed to 1 crossbred “grey hound/husky racing breed” that many other companies use. Even though greyhounds are classified as the fastest dog on earth, they have zero endurance and weight pulling ability. The dog sledders that use this breed for touring and freighting are very limited in how much their dogs can pull, the distances per day they can run, the terrain they can run on, etc. Because we understand you want to experience real, we use the famous and beautiful Siberian husky; the mysterious Canadian Indian husky, which are the closest living relative to the coyote; the stunning Canadian Inuit husky, which are the closest living relative to the wolf; the powerful Alaskan Malamute and; the very exceptional Alaskan Husky. Learn more about the breeds here
Q: Can we take video and photos of our tour and the huskies?
A: Of course! You’re going to need to have some proof and bragging material to show your family and friends!
Q: Do the huskies get anything to eat or drink between tours and are they rested properly?
A: Absolutely! In fact, we are the only company that uses thermoses to keep their “Doggie Gatorade” warm and fresh throughout the day! Here’s why: Just like us, eating the cold snow dehydrates the dogs, as they spend too much energy warming up again, so watering the dogs with cold water is not serving any purpose other than dehydrating them further. We care about our huskies health and in order for them to stay happy and eager to perform we serve all their meals warm in the winter…after all what would you rather drink, hot tea or cold tea?
This “Doggie Gatorade” is made up of a few key elements:
- Hot water which is refreshing, comforting and hydrating.
- Chicken fat which is high in energy, calories and oils which is excellent for our working huskies who are burning around 2000 calories a day!
- Tripe which is full of very important and helpful digestive enzymes, oils and vitamins. So on average each dog drinks 3 liters per day!
Ensuring that all our huskies drink and stay hydrated is very important so often times we will even mix in other tasty meats such as turkey, buffalo, duck and salmon! We also offer delicious treats to our huskies once they have finished drinking their water and are enjoy their rest. Variety is the spice of life so we offer many different types of treats such as duck, chicken, yams wrapped in chicken, Milk Bones, beef liver etc! Learn more about our dog care here!
Our huskies enjoy a minimum 1 hour break between their tours where they receive their “Doggie Gatorade” and treats. We do not load our huskies into their travel boxes after running as this causes their muscles to tense up and become stiff, also because they eat and drink so much they need to be able to relieve themselves whenever they please, if they are in their travel box they have no alternative area to do so. Another benefit of letting our huskies cool down and rest in their team formation is it allows our guides ample time to give each dog loving attention and thank them for their hard work on each tour. Any dogs with thinner coats are offered a nice warm dog coat while we clip their nails, groom them and prep their feet (some huskies have sensitive feet and require paw protection ointment and booties) for the next outing. Our huskies only enjoy being in their travel boxes for very short periods of time, not for 2 hours like some other companies allow. Read more on our dog care!
Q: How do you choose a lead dog?
A: It’s not the musher who chooses the lead dog; it is the dog that in fact chooses to lead! A lead dog can be compared to the CEO of a company. They direct the team in a certain direction for the greater good and success of the company; a lead dog does the same. A leader’s personality can be different as each dog is an individual just like people, some are quieter and relaxed others are more excited however, a good lead dog is just like a good human leader. They’re focused, driven, hard-working, and independent, have a positive attitude and are very responsive to directions given by the musher. A lead dog’s job is also to keep a strong and steady pace for the team to travel at, it is a common misconception that lead dogs are the biggest in the team…generally it’s the other way around! Most lead dogs tend to be the smallest of the team but don’t let their size fool you…they run the show and are quick to move a team of 10 dogs left or right when asked! A bigger dog generally means it will be slower, those dogs are found at the back of the team!
Q: How many dogs on each team?
A: This will all depend on snow conditions, terrain, cargo and the duration of the tour you’re taking part in. If the trail is slow due to fresh snow we will maximize the teams to ensure safe pulling for our dogs and an enjoyable speed for guests. If the trail is fast we will minimize the teams speed to make sure it is safe for all who are participating. If the sled is lighter due to small children we will again make adjustments in the team to ensure a good pace for the tour. It is possible to see teams of 5 dogs up to 10 during your tour with us.
Q: Is allowing a guest to drive their own sled dog team dangerous?
I was told by one of your competitors it is comparable to driving a vehicle on a freeway with no driving experience.
A: For those competitors who make such comments – it is possible that they are providing you an inside look at what it would be like if you were to drive one of “their” sled dog teams! When speaking with an disreputable sled dog touring company who’s attitude is to “never trust the dogs” as they have not trained them to be trustworthy, then yes, driving a dog team with uncontrollable dogs who fight and do not listen to commands would be dangerous. With these scandalous companies, their sled dogs are a direct reflection of who they are. Here at Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours we can trust all of our sled dogs as they are all very well trained – in fact so well trained that owners of other sled dog touring companies comment that our guests, after their instruction from our company, can drive a dog team better than their own guides based on what they have witnessed! Even though this is a credit to our company, we worry that some companies admittedly don’t train their guides or their dogs properly.
Mindless treadmill training in an enclosed building with no real trail situations is not the standard here. We go the extra mile which obviously takes more time and effort on our part. Nevertheless we will only do what is best for our sled dogs – not what is easiest for us! Chaining sled dogs to a treadmill and watching them run we feel is sadly inhumane in many ways. By running our sled dogs during cool early mornings in the great outdoors, it supports keeping them stimulated, working on real trail situations and getting them out of the kennel facility which is refreshing and fun for them. The difference is, we are creating a dog that loves to run and play vs. a dog with a job – read about our training program here!
What our guests say about driving their own team:
“I would like to thank you all for such an amazing and fun experience that I will never forget! Riding my own sled was so much fun; the dogs are so awesome and I couldn’t ask more from the whole team!”
“My wife and I wanted to thank you for a wonderful day with your outfit. We had an exceptional time and enjoyed the great independence that you allow with your trustworthy teams.”
“I of course thoroughly enjoyed the experience and loved driving – heck with being in the bag!”
Q: What are the positions in a sled dog team and what are the requirements?
A: At the front of the team we have our leaders. They are the most responsive to voice commands and the fastest dogs in the team. Their job is to keep the gang line (line all the dogs are attached to) tight at all times, take direction from the musher and to keep the pace in the team.
Behind the leaders we have our point dogs. Think of these dogs as the assistant leaders or leaders in training. From time to time a lead dog can have a bad day and if they do we will simply just make a minor adjustment in the team. We will put one of the point dogs in the lead position to create a less stressful atmosphere for all the dogs; this will improve the rest of the team’s behaviour. Believe it or not if the lead dog is having a bad day the rest of the team can feel it. You may also find that this point dog may soon be a proven leader.
Behind the point dogs are the swing dogs. This is where we start our pups for the first time. We also run our yearlings here with a veteran dog, one who will be calm and relaxed when he/she is working this way they won’t frighten the new pup. Sometimes the situation calls for a veteran dog that will do a little training of its own. If the yearling is well…silly like most of them are the veteran will be quick to let he/she know that they must behave by giving a small nip. The Veteran dog will do this without hurting the pup but letting it know that it better behave or next time it just may hurt!
Behind the swing dogs we have the biggest and usually the slowest dogs. These are the wheel dogs and they are the weight pullers of the team. Think of them as the Clydesdales of sled dogs. They come in very handy on the up hills and in deep snow conditions. Because of their size they may never get a chance to run in the lead positions since they are much slower. But never the less, a very important part of the whole team!
A dog sled team is managed in a similar manner to a human team so we have set up a tour based on this. For a work group that needs some help in team enhancement click here!
Q: How many dogs does Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours have?
A: We know how essential it is to be able to spend quality time with each dog. This is why our kennel stays between 150-180 dogs; any more dogs would be very difficult to look after properly. Many people look at the number of furkids we share our lives with and wonder how it is possible to provide the highest quality of care for so many! Here at Snowy Owl we are all dedicated to our family of huskies – the entire 2-legged team from our kennel managers, insructors, office managers and even our transporation team. Everything we do here at Snowy Owl is for the dogs and by viewing our website or joining us on one of our programs it is easy to see how much dedication and time we put into giving our sled dogs the very best! To us they are not just “the dogs” they are a part of our team and are our very best friends! So, why does the number of dogs change in the kennel? Our 4-legged family can increase and flauctuate much like a human family would! Planned new additions, loss of an older dog or one of our oldies heading out on a new path of retirement as a house pet! We require a large number of husky hereos so we can gurantee that they all have proper and healthy run/rest ratios during the winter season. As we always say: “there isa difference between and dog with a job and dogs who love their job! As most can understand, our dogs do work however, they require the same care as a house pet would. We know our dogs so well and treat them all equally while also catering to their needs! We know their names, nicknames, where they live in the kennel, what their bark sounds like, who their brothers and sisters are, where they run in the team, their favourite spot to be scratched and their eating habits! As we always say, it shouldn’t be the size of the kennel that impresses you, but the quality of care each dog receives!
Q: At what age do your dogs retire and what do you do with the dogs once they are retired?
A: Just like us, dogs age differently. We generally let our huskies run until they are 10 sometimes even 11. When we run them at this age we are very careful to make sure they are not pushed too hard. Like most working dogs they are happiest when they’re working but there comes a time when they must hang up their harness…even when they don’t want to!
Each and every dog we have works hard for us in their own right. As difficult as it is for us to let go we always want to see our dogs happy. When they are ready to retire we place them up for adoption, this gives them the opportunity to have their very own human who will give them an amazing home to live out their golden years!
Visit our Adoption page here!
Q: Are Alaskan huskies the authentic and original sled dog breed of North America and Canada?
A: No, pure bred huskies such as the Canadian Inuit, Alaskan Malamute, Siberian and the now rare Canadian Indian huskies are the indigenous breeds developed and employed by our First Nations and Inuit communities, long before the European population arrived with their greyhounds. These pure bred huskies carry very important and instinctive traits from their wolf ancestors such as a thick weather proof coat, tough feet and excellent endurance. These resilient breeds are not specifically bred for speed but for their power, stamina and natural ability to handle the elements as well as pulling weight.
The Alaskan husky is typically 50% grey hound or short haired pointer and the remaining 50% is usually Siberian husky. Crosses were introduced by speed racers to make their huskies faster to qualify for prize money. These Alaskan huskies tend to be quite small averaging 40-50lbs, sport a thin coat and usually have sensitive feet. When the hound was crossed with the pure bred husky their natural ability to withstand cold, snow and ice was not nearly as prominent, a sad but true reality. Hounds are not equipped to pull weight which puts the Alaskan husky at risk, while the hound is bred for running and the husky for pulling combining the two creates a sled with lots of will power and speed however, lacking in their ability to pull weight. Using them as freighting sled dogs is definitely a choice but not the suitable and authentic one based on our many years or expertise. Any company using a cross breed should consider promoting safe pulling for their teams such as booties, dog jacket’s and light sled loads to pull.
Q: Are sled dogs supposed to be thin?
A: No, sled dogs are supposed to be fit, not lean, thin or skinny especially when they’re being used to pull weight. And what is fit? Vets generally recommend being able to feel the ribs of your dog but not see them! No dog should ever be kept in a manner in which you can see ribs and hip bones. In a kennel facility it is possible to have a few picky eaters however; when the general appearance of all the dogs are thin that is a concern. There are differences between fit and healthy, which is comparable to humans. Both thin and overweight sled dogs can be unsafe, an overweight dog can strain joints and muscles while a thin dog has no fat reserve to burn therefore their body will resort to burning muscle. Also keeping in mind that most sled dogs live outdoors which means even with proper housing and cozy straw bedding it is possible for them to burn calories to stay warm…you could only imagine what would happen to sled dogs with thin coats and no fat reserve to help keep them warm living in a plastic barrel for a house. Only the highest standards in dog care are acceptable and essential to the success of the industry of the sled dog sport and it should be the number one priority of any reputable dog sledding operation. If it isn’t, it will show in the inward and outward appearance. Never settle for lower standards or enable others to practice them. Don’t be afraid to speak out against such practices…after all, it’s all about the dog’s isn’t it?!
Learn the truth here!