Monday, March 03, 2014

Dog Sledding with Snowy Owl Tours - Best Day EVER!

It's been joked about before that I shouldn't try new things because I've been known to abandon everything for a new sport after trying it only once.  Dog Sledding was no exception.  I went out for a short ride with Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours and knew within the first 5 minutes that I wanted to buy my own team of dogs, start racing, and sell my soul to become a professional musher.  Addicted easily?  Perhaps.  OR maybe the tour was just that awesome!!!

Having the time of our lives with Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours

We drove to the Snowy Owl office in Canmore to meet the rest of our group for our tour.  For visitors staying in Banff, they will pick you up straight from your hotel though, which is a great optional service for tourists to the Rockies.  Once at the office, we hopped into a comfortable van for our ride out to the Spray Lakes on the Smith Dorrien Trail.  We didn't bother with a booster seat for our 5 year old son but families with young children may want to bring one along for the ride.

Meeting our Dogs

Once at the trailhead, we were instructed to immediately go find our dogs - and start cuddling them!  Yes, that's right.  "Go cuddle some dogs" was a common instruction throughout the day.  Even if one of the dogs started to get unruly during the instruction period before our tour, a staff member would be quickly ordered to go hug the noisy dog.  Not hit, not control, not calm the dog down, but HUG it.  I knew instantly that this was a great tour company and that we had chosen the best!

Hello adorable puppy!

Our tour started with a 30 minute introduction to the sport of mushing, a tutorial on how to drive our own sled - yes, you get to drive your very own sled!!, and a brief background story on the company and their ethical practices.  The company website states that "there are no rules or regulations ensuring ethical dog care and proper kennel management in the sport of dog sledding."  Snowy Owl ensures however that their dogs are treated with the very best care and nothing is kept secret from the public.   Just visit the A Dog's Life tab on the company website to find out what their dogs eat, how they are treated, where they sleep, or even how they are bred.

Getting set to GO!

And now, what you really want to know - what does it feel like to ride in a dog sled?  Do you get to drive?  Do you have to drive?  How hard is it to drive your own team and can anybody really do it? Can you just be a passenger?  Is it safe for kids?  Is it dangerous?  Do you get cold?  How many people can you fit in a sled?  Do the sleds ever tip?...

I admit, I had each and every one of those questions in my head before our trip.
So, let me answer them for you as best I can.

Snowy Owl maintains a VERY scenic trail for their tours

Driving your own sled

Happy Family!
Yes, you get to drive your own sled and are encouraged to do so.  Do you have to?  No.  You can opt to ride in the cozy warm sled covered in a big blanket the whole time.  Or you can opt to ride part of the time and change places with your partner at the half way point.  And you can also choose to drive together with your partner or with one of the guides.   However, somebody has to drive the sled.  In our case, my husband was very enthusiastic to drive while I enjoyed a peaceful ride cuddling with my son in the sled.  I do regret now that I didn't trade places and take my turn driving;  How many times in my life will I get the opportunity to drive a sled team of dogs??

My husband is a bit of an adventure junkie, preferring to spend his day in the mountains doing more radical things from rock climbing to mountaineering and backcountry skiing.  However, he said he loved the experience, that driving the sled kept him alert and on his toes, and that he'd go back any time!  He found that he definitely had to concentrate and that it was a challenge - which he embraced with total enthusiasm!

The half way point on Goat Pond
Flying across Goat Pond

My advice:  Don't fear if you are a bit nervous about the idea of driving a team of dogs without previous experience.  Everybody in our group did awesome at it and none of us had done it before.  The dogs are used to being lead by beginners and they're smart enough not to run into the team in front of them if you should fail to notice the dogs in front of you stop suddenly.  The instructions at the beginning of our session were thorough and we weren't tackling difficult terrain.  The hills were small and the trail was gently rolling with many flat stretches.  My son was even given the opportunity to ride on the back of the sled with Dad - something we will definitely try next time!!

Over all, as long as you pay attention during the tutorial at the beginning, watch your dogs attentively in case one needs to stop for a pee break, and watch the sled in front of you carefully, you'll be fine!  Perfectly fine.

Sleds can accommodate up to three adults per sled

Riding in the Sled

What does it feel like?  You know the feeling when you're a passenger in a car and the driver suddenly accelerates, pinning your head to the back of the head rest?  Yeah, that's kinda what it feels like when the team takes off.  It's fast, it's noisy, it's exhilarating when you hit bumps (of which there are lots), and it's a total thrill ride!! Not so much however that young kids would be scared.  My 5 year old isn't always the bravest kid when he is trying something new.  I had prepped him by showing him videos of dog sledding before our tour, but I still wasn't sure how he'd react to the noise, speed, and general excitement of the whole ride.  Well, no fear - he LOVED it.

Taking a break to hug one of his dogs

I felt completely safe in the sled, never feared that we'd tip, and was toasty warm bundled under a heavy wool jacket.  It was also a good place for me, the photographer.  It probably doesn't need to be mentioned, but if you are driving, you can't take photos at the same time.  You don't do anything when you are driving but hold on and direct your team.

Two of our beautiful dogs

Family-Friendly Tours

As I said, my son loved the tour and I felt safe about him being in the sled with me.  We could have even had our son ride in the sled alone if we had both wanted to steer at the same time (which is totally possible if both mom and dad want to stand on the back together).  If you have two kids, you can easily put both kids in the sled at the same time or mix it up by alternating who drives/rides.  There is a flat beginner stretch along  Goat Pond that's perfect for kids to try driving with mom or dad.

Easy Stretch where kids could drive

Aside from the actual sled ride, the other great thing for kids is the interaction with the dogs.  As I mentioned earlier, you get to cuddle lots of dogs!  And these dogs are the friendliest dogs I've ever met.  My son was actually lying on top of one of our dogs at one point (hugging him) - and the dog was totally at peace with it.


There's also a campfire at the end of the trip complete with hot chocolate and snacks.  Overall, the two hour tour is very family-friendly!  Just make sure you dress the kids (and yourself) warmly!  The 30 minute introduction at the beginning goes long and it's easy to get cold standing around.

Friendly dogs with LOTS of kisses

For other reasons why you should choose Snowy Owl Tours for your dog sledding experience, visit the  Experience Real section of the company website.  The company won a certificate of excellence in both 2012 and 2013 with Trip Advisor and holds a 5 star rating.  Snowy Owl is also rated one of the top 5 dog sledding companies in North America and has held their position as the #1 experience in Canmore for the last 2 years.

Personally, I think you'd also be hard pressed to find a prettier dog sled tour in the Rockies!

Beautiful scenery for the tour

For more information, visit the Snowy Owl website or contact the company directly if you want to find out if one of their tours would be right for your family.  We did the 2 hour Powder Hound Express Tour.  It was a great introduction to the sport and a good trial run with a child.  Next time however, I'd want to do the 4 hour tour which would allow for more time on the sled.  With our tour, we were only on the sled for maybe 45 minutes.  And while it was exhilarating, it felt way too short.  The 2 hour tour is the most affordable option though and would make an excellent birthday or Christmas present for the adult or child who has everything.   Kids really don't need tons of new toys but a dog sled tour would be a gift they'd never forget!

Standing on the sled with Dad

Thank You

A big thank you to the staff at Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours for the fabulous day in the mountains and for letting us have a brief glimpse into the intriguing sport of mushing.

Here's a parting video of us flying across Goat Pond:

Disclaimer:  Snowy Owl graciously sponsored our family's tour but as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.  I wasn't compensated in any other way beyond the tour.


  1. My kids wish to ride on sled. Hope we make it this year.

  2. Great post! I went dog sledding in Churchill, Manitoba this fall and loved it. Now we are watching the Iditarod and mapping our favorite mushers' progress-- so fun! Thanks for sharing this great adventure.

    1. Thanks Mel. I've been reading a bit about the Iditarod too - what a race!

  3. I literally gasped when I saw this post on BonBon Break today. LOL. I have wanted to do this for ages - ever since my son's infatuation with the book "Granite," about the record-setting sled dog. It is at the top of our to-do list if we get to Vermont next winter. Looks like a blast! Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks Ellie. I hope you get the chance to try dog sledding in Vermont!