From The Snowy Owl Archives: Weasel and Cinder’s Story With Connie Arsenault

Well, folks, it’s been 40 years of Snowy Owl! It’s hard to believe that we’ve entered our 40th year, but as we reflect on decades of growth, community, and tours in the Bow Valley, we can’t help but take a little trip down memory lane. If you’re familiar with Snowy Owl, you know that we’re a family-owned business that was originally founded by Connie and Charles Arsenault in 1983 when Canmore was a quiet coal mining town. While the business has been handed down by one generation, we consistently draw from the learnings of the original founders for guidance and–in this case–nostalgia and a little bit of comedic relief. This year, we’re going to be throwing it back and sharing stories from the Snowy Owl archive to give you a taste of our journey to date. For today’s story, we caught up with Connie to hear about a time that a tour didn’t exactly go to plan.

Weasel and Cinder’s Story

This is such a funny story nowadays! I find myself laughing out loud whenever I think of it. At the time, though, it wasn’t funny at all…for me anyway, and probably my crew.

As I recall, it was one of our very first tours, and we were booked by a wonderful couple from Edmonton, Alberta, to provide our popular Powder Hound Express Tour. Being the very beginning of our career, they were the only couple on the tour, which turned out to be a blessing. It was a stunning afternoon, with a blue sky, beautiful snow and happy sled dogs.

My husband, Charles, and a dear friend of ours, “Uncle Bill,” were my handling and assisting crew. My husband was very proud of the brand-new gang line he had made for me and was adamant that I should use it. I was reluctant to use it without a practice run and argued unsuccessfully. He assured me that I needed to trust in his ability and just go ahead and use it. Against my better judgment, I agreed but asked to have the older, tattered line put in the sled as a backup plan. All agreed.

For those who have never seen a gang line, it’s the line that all the sled dogs are attached to in front of the sled to organize them and distribute the weight being pulled. Each dog is attached by a large ring on their neck collar and to the back of their harnesses with the center of the line secured to the front of the sled.

While my sled and dogs were being prepared by my marvellous Snowy Owl handlers, I was preparing our guests for their amazing experience. When all was complete, and the snack and hot beverages were added to the sled, we departed, leaving my husband and Uncle Bill in a spray of cool, white snow. Everyone was so excited. Everything was perfect.

About 2.5 km down the trail, we watched our lead dogs, Weasel and Cinder, detach from the front position of the gang line, running in perfect unison but away from us. I was horrified!!!

As they paced their way into a bend of the trail, they looked back and noticed they were no longer attached to us. The look on their faces was likewise bewildered as they came to a stop and maneuvered a successful turn to return to us. GOOD DOGS!!! Oh boy, was I grateful, and began praising them profusely as I set my snow hook deep into the snow to hold the rest of the team. As I did so, I watched in shock as all the remaining sled dogs detached from the gang line!!! OHHH NOOOO!! We just lost our motor!! Happily, the dogs danced all around us, and my customers were amused only because they didn’t understand the backstory of what had just happened.  Good grief, I thought!! Well, I thought, we still have a gang line, so I’ll dig it out of the sled. Pulling the gear out of the sled, I realized we did not, in fact, have the tried-and-true gang line with us after all. I felt the adrenaline surge through my entire body and swallowed hard. What now?

These were the days without snowmobile or radio support, so, there we were on this beautiful trail in the wilderness, stuck. I tried to tie the dogs back onto the line, but it was impossible. The options were for all of us to either walk back to the staging area or I could set out the snack and beverages that these darling guests could enjoy while I ran back to get the appropriate gang line. It was decided that I would retrieve the gang line, so off I ran.

As I approached the truck, the air around me was rather “blue,” so to speak, as I shook the failed gang line in my arms, almost in tears. As I recall, both Charles and Uncle Bill hid behind the truck when they saw me coming, which even today creates a giggle and what we all laughed copiously about later. Anyway, after some legitimate chastisement on the importance of following protocol, I ran back to my guests and dogs with the tattered old line in hand. I quickly put the team back together, and off we went in a flurry of excitement.

At the trial’s end, I refused to take payment for the tour. However, our gracious guests insisted that despite the matters that presented themselves, they enjoyed their entire Snowy Owl experience immensely, especially those happy, intelligent, reliable sled dogs who saved the day in the end!! My crew and I learned a lot from just that one tour, never to repeat the same mistakes, and to always do plenty of test runs. Always be prepared for everything you can imagine, remember to breathe and don’t forget to laugh a lot.