Dog Sledding Sweden’s Winter Clad Landscape
I head out to Vålådalen in the southern Åre mountains, the last frontier as it’s sometimes referred to, where civilisation draws to a close and the wilderness begins. I’m about to embark on a unique adventure, an overnight dog sled safari in Sweden, to the cabins in the foothills of the Gruvsmällen mountain, which lie at an altitude of approximately 1 246 metres above sea level.
The dogs are euphoric when we head out to them in their enclosures. The sheer energy oozes out of them as they realise that they very soon will be running in the wild with their pack. This is the epitome of “a dog´s life”. Wilderness, the pack, the freedom. The lead dog, the matriarch, called Hilla, stands with a calm authority as she watches the rest of the pack animals zealously throwing themselves around with boundless energy, while tangling themselves in the gang lines. Hilla knows that the time to run is close, but not yet. She patiently waits and watches attentively as I tie down the last of the items and stand ready to release the sleds break.
By now the dogs have worked themselves into a euphoric frenzy, the noise deafening from their barking and yapping. Four teams of dog sleds, totaling 25 animals are tugging frantically at the lines, all but one, Hilla, the lead dog, as she waits for my command. The guide and handler gives me the thumbs up checking to see if I am ready, I return the signal with a double thumbs up and cheesy smile. It’s go time!
The brake is released from the snow and the dogs set off at a frenetic pace, their paws clawing the snow reminding me of cartoon animations I watched as a child. The acceleration from the dogs taking off catches me off guard and I nearly lose my balance on the sled. Within a few moments the dogs go silent as they get into their rhythm of their work. The only sounds I hear after the cacophony of noise a few moments ago is that of the animals breathing and the sound of the wooden sled gliding over the ice. I look up and start taking in the surroundings. This, is freedom. The type of freedom that deafens with its undisturbed silence which is something that can only be experienced in rugged wilderness. It’s the freedom that restores the soul to life.
The wind chill slowly starts biting into my cheeks as the wind rushes past us. The winter trail has been cut through the forests and winds its way through the pine trees that loom over us, heavily laden with the recent snows. The trail is constantly changing as it climbs its way up the mountain and some of the turns are so sharp that I lose track of the lead dogs as they hurl their way around them. The trees start thinning and becoming more sinuous, crooked and weather beaten, signs of the harsher weather they experience at such altitudes. We reach the end of the treeline and keep heading onwards, passing a few nordic skiers who cast a few jealous looks in our direction as we mush past them.