An Interview with Senior Dog Sled Guide, Erin Mihalyi (aka E-$)
Learn about the life of a dog sled guide in our Meet the Musher blog series. This interview is with senior instructor Erin Mihalyi, aka E-$’s. Originally from Vancouver Island, on her days off Erin enjoys running with her dog Remington a retired husky hero who is completely blind but that doesn’t stop her from keeping up with her mom and all of her friends though.
What is your role and what’s your main priority?
I’m a senior instructor three days a week and I help manage our kennel one day. This means I have a slightly bigger scope in my role. I get to be guide guests through the beautiful Canadian Rockies and show them the incredible sport of mushing and our dogs. And, for one day a week my main priority is caring for the dogs and looking after our incredible pack. Spending time in the kennel has meant that I’ve developed really strong bonds with our dogs, which makes me a better human and guide.
Describe a typical workday…
Wake up an hour before our start time and make a huge pot of coffee. Check the weather and determine how many layers to put on and whether it is a toque or sunnies day. Fill travel mug with coffee, grab all the gear bags and guide bags and take Remington (my personal husky) down to the car.
Arrive at work at least 15mins before start. Have general banter with the crew and find out the general plan for the day. Clock-in. Morning chores begin which involve, cleaning the entire kennel, feeding the dogs, giving medication to any dogs that require it and loading up the trucks with supplies.
Grabbing dogs. Probably one of the most hectic things you will ever watch, but every guide gets assigned teams to grab and we have around 5mins to collect all our dogs, sprinting through the kennel from the dog houses to the truck. It has to be done safely and efficiently. You have to be able to lift all the dogs over your head as well. So 100lbs+ Malamutes are always hilarious. But the dogs learn to help. It is a really great anaerobic workout and if it is a cold morning, man it gets the blood pumping.
Jump in the trucks and head up to our dogsledding site which takes about 40mins. Arrive at site and start setting up lines for the dogs, unloading sleds and dogs, harnessing all the dogs, attaching the to the sleds and parking them up in our starting shoot. Change into our uniforms and unload all the dog water and treats. Guests arrive and the intros (Dogsledding 101) beings!
Tours head out on our beautiful Goat Creek pond for a 1hr/10km tour. I will do several stops along the trail to give extra instructions or hot tips (don’t let go!) if need be (we’re the only company that lets people drive their very own self-driven sleds!) and of course, tell guest all about their teams and dogs (every guide can tell you all 165 of our dogs’ names and breeds!). When we get to halfway we become official photographers and I will snap tons of photos for our guests while discussing teams and dogs with them (it’s all about spotting the superstars of Disney’s Togo these days or whoever got employee of the month status-last month was Bear who wears doggles and he was a real stud). This is also the opportunity to switch drivers if desired so we help repack up our drivers and sleds)
Return from tour and all teams get parked up, watered, treated and maybe a couple dogs will get added/removed to teams if needed (we call it sparing out dogs…just like on a sports team!) When guests have had all the cuddles and pics with their teams they will head to the fire with one of the guides. The whole procedure repeats for as many tours there are!
If you are not on a tour, you will either do staging which means involves getting the spares ready if they are going into teams and you help park the sleds as they arrive back at the end of a tour. If you aren’t staging, then you will jump on the snow machine and clean the trail at the back of the tour and provide any assistance to guides and guests if needed. We want to keep our trail and provincial park in pristine shape!
After the last tour, we take all the dogs off their sleds (gangline) and put them on the drop line. We remove all their harnesses. Dogs get loaded into the trucks and then we pack down all the sleds, lines, blankets, and load them on to the top of the trucks. We load up our snow machine and head back down the mountain to the kennel.
Guests often think this is when our day ends as well but once we get back down, evening chores begin. We “drop dogs” which is running all the dogs back to their houses. We unload all the trucks, hang blankets up to dry, fix any equipment or lines that might be broken, we will soup the entire kennel and then do one last big clean of the whole kennel (it is cleaned several times during the day while we are up on-site as well!). One guide will pull all the dishes into our on-site cabin and wash everything for the next day.
Clock-Out and head for home aka bed!
If it is my kennel day, then I stay behind when the trucks roll out and get to work right away. Instead of feed and clean for morning chores, I will have administered all of the dog’s medications, which can be anything from eye drops to ointments to antibiotics if need be. I will collect all the bowls of the dogs that have left for site and the ones that remain will get a full bowl of kibble and water. I collect up all bowls (we don’t want Ravens in the kennel!!) and begin a full second clean of the kennel. Once everything is tidied, I close the gates between the girls and boy’s side of the kennel and will release one side for “free run” all the dogs run together on their side of the kennel for around 2 hours. Playing and running, getting pets, brushes and nail trimming. I put out huge buckets of warm water so the dogs can access water at any time. I will also do a clean. Afterwards, I put every dog back at their house and will do another full kennel clean. In the afternoon, the process repeats and the other side runs. All our dogs love each other and have been around people and other dogs their whole lives, we only have the two sides due to the fact that some of our dogs remain intact and may become future puppy parents! Once both sides have run, it is time to prepare the evening soup for the whole kennel. The trucks will usually call me when they are around 20mins away so I can time dinner for them.
How did you get into the field of work? Where did you work before this?
I am a career guide and started working in Europe as a Tour Leader for a company called Topdeck. I had a degree in European History/Social Cultural Anthropology and a huge love of travel so for almost a decade I took 19-39 year olds all around Europe on trips from 10 days to 49 days. It was wild and the best way to spend my 20s! I decided to hang up my European shoes and try guiding in my own beautiful part of the world three years ago. I started working in the summertime, for Backroads. which does active road cycling and hiking trips all over the world and I work for their Canadian Rockies division and, now, here at Snowy Owl in the winter.
Did you go to school for this role? Do you have any formal training?
Sorta. I did a degree in History and Social Cultural Anthropology which jump started me into travelling where I gained a lot of real world experience which got me my first guiding job. Most companies I have worked for, make you go through a comprehensive in-house training program so, it’s really about having a passion for guiding. I’ve been a trainee a couple of times, and even a trainer, but I love it. I learned how to be an ad hoc bike mechanic for Backroads and yesterday, I learnt how to operate a reciprocating saw. Guides are probably some of the most interesting people, partly because they offer a wide variety of skills. It can be hard for guides to put their skill sets down on paper.
What do you love most about your job?
I love that guiding combines so many of my passions. Being outside in our gorgeous scenery, meeting amazing guests from all over the world and of course, THE DOGS!! I wanted to be a vet from about two years old and volunteered at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) but, my mom had to break it to me that vets treat all animals, not just dogs, so I was less sure. I often think that my younger self would very much approve of my career choice.
What’s one of the challenging things about your job?
The obvious one: the physicality. I don’t mean fitness necessarily. Mushing can be rough on the body. Most of the guides will tell you they have had bruised ribs at least one season, arthritic fingers from holding the shovels in the cold, cuts on your hands from the dog lines but, the body is an amazing thing and if you use your weekends wisely you’re usually ready to hit the trails again come Monday!
What advice would you give to someone who’s considering this career path?
Be passionate about it and love it. This isn’t just any old guiding role, you have to love the dogs, they’re everything and they’re always the best part of the day.
When I was a kid I lived in Whitehorse in the Yukon. Every year the Yukon Quest dog sledding race either starts or finishes there. I can still remember listening to the mushers on the CBC radio broadcast (it was the early 90s….radio was still a thing back then haha) make their way along the Alaska/Yukon route. When I told my mom, I got a job at Snowy Owl she sent me this photo (below) that I took when I was eight years old, of the start of the race. She said she knew I would get the job because I had wanted it for over 20 years – I clearly thought this musher had the best job in the world (I wasn’t wrong!)
Is there anything else about your role that you think people would be interested in learning about?
Well, my role led me to adopt one of our huskies, Remington, who went blind two years ago from glaucoma. She’s taught me a lot about preconceptions. Dogs sense the world so much differently than humans, it didn’t even phase her. She stills runs on my sled with me once a week, she loves to run, hike and camp on our time off and she is just the coolest little cucumber. She has no fear at all. I often wish I was as graceful and calm as Remington!