Photo: © VADYM LAVRA | DREAMSTIME
AS A KID GROWING UP IN TEXAS, the closest I ever came to dogsledding was when I strapped on a pair of inline skates and took my black Lab out for a walk around my neighborhood. Dogsledding seemed exotic, and I often daydreamed about one day feeling the rush of icy air against my face as I yelled, “Mush!” at a team of blue-eyed huskies.
Which is why in Finland’s northernmost region, as I sat on a well-worn wooden sled padded only in a thick reindeer hide, my heart raced in anticipation of a moment I had dreamed about for nearly 15 years.
My team of six huskies was strong and well-rested for our ride that evening, most of them paired with their siblings and all of them handled with love and admiration by their owner, Mika Nylund. I had booked the tour through Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, which had recommended Nylund’s company, Kamisak Oy, as the best way to get an authentic experience of dogsledding beneath the dark sky of winter, with a chance to see the Northern Lights.
For Nylund and many who grew up in Lapland, dogsledding was a way of life, many locals starting as early as 6 years old with a small sled pulled by one or two huskies.
“There are thousands of huskies in Lapland,” said Nylund, husky sledge activity guide for Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, who himself began dogsledding at the age of 14. “There are husky farms for touristic purposes, some have huskies for their own hobby, and some have them for more serious competitions and races. For many people it is a hobby as any other sport.”
While he prepared my sled for the adventure, Nylund told me he’s teaching his son Noa to be a musher, beaming with pride about his son’s natural ability to command the sled behind a powerful pack of huskies mushing along a snow-packed trail.
“The nature and landscape in Lapland is perfectly suited for dogsledding,” he added as he gave my team of dogs one final check and tucked me in with more blankets and a scarf to protect my face from the shifting winds that come from being behind six large animals. “Finnish Lapland is a big area, and the nature is very different in different parts of the region. In the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort area [it] is possible to experience Lapland pine forests as well as beautiful treeless hills that give the feeling of the real Lapland wilderness.”
And with that we were off. My partner began the adventure as the musher, while I soaked in the experience from my position seated in the sled. I closed my eyes as the wind hit my exposed cheeks and I was left with the soft sound of the sled gliding along the path worn by a gentle drumming of the dogs’ feet. Although the air was not as freshly scented as I expected (I soon learned why Nylund had given me that extra face covering, as the dogs do not stop for bathroom breaks along the trail), the scenery was stunning and the air was crisp and cool — everything I had dreamed it would be.
After an hour of following Nylund and his own team of dogs, we crossed an open field where we stopped for a mug of rich and steaming hot Finnish cocoa and the chance to stretch our legs. It was my turn to give up my warm spot in the sled and take the helm as the musher for the next portion of the journey. Nylund gave me a quick rundown of the controls and put me at ease when he said his dogs were highly trained and responded well to commands.
I gave the command to go, and with a running start, I hopped into position on the wooden slats of the sled. It was at once empowering and humbling to be the musher, realizing that, although I was driving the sled, the dogs were the ones truly in control. I followed Nylund’s lead and ducked as we entered a pine forest and swished past heavenly scented trees. As we turned the corner into an open meadow, Nylund lifted his fist to signal me to stop. Not a word was spoken, and the dogs even sat in silence as we all looked up to see vibrant shades of green and red light dancing in the night sky.
They say seeing the Northern Lights is never a guarantee, referring to the aurora borealis as a “fickle lady.” With that knowledge, I smiled as I took in my exotic surroundings. Snow boots in place of skates and huskies in place of my black Lab, my dream was finally a reality, and in that moment, I was the luckiest girl in the world.
Lapland Info to Go
All flights to Lapland depart from Helsinki-Vantaa Airport; the closest airport to the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort is Ivalo (IVL). The resort offers a shuttle bus at the time of booking, and the ride takes 30 minutes from the airport to the hotel.