A very ‘pawsitive’ day on Yellowknife Bay
“Are you guys familiar with the kicksled? They are made in Scandinavia, they are meant to be self-propelled, but we’re hooking up dogs to them. But you do very much have to help them out and kick with them.”
— Richard McIntosh offers a quick primer into kick-sledding
The log cabin in Old Town has gone to the dogs. Literally.
Formerly the home of a local radio station, the building at 4 Lessard Dr. is now housing SunDog Adventures — owned and operated by the husband and wife team of Christine Wenman and Richard McIntosh — now offering kicksledding through Yellowknife Bay.
It’s a version of a Scandinavian sport — or active hobby — well suited to this climate and apparently very much enjoyed by the variety of husky breeds used to pull the lightweight, aluminum sleds over the snow.
On a recent sunny day, I have the pleasure of meeting some of the frisky canines, as they howl with delight and jump for doggy joy as a group of us approach the sleds on Back Bay. Wenman and McIntosh adopted their first dogs from the SPCA.
But prior to the start of the up to 1.5-hour “experiential” adventure, the group — including visitors Mel Frederick of Fort Providence and Robin Farquharson of Toronto — is given a briefing by McIntosh inside the sunlit cabin.
“There are a couple of commands that you need to know, the first command is ‘hike up,’ that means to get your dogs to go. And you do want to give a little bit of a kick to go. As long as your dogs are pulling, they are doing their job,” says the ever encouraging McIntosh.
“To stop, or to slow down, it’s ‘whoa,’ or ‘easy does it,’ and at the same time, you are stepping on the brake.
“But don’t step off the brake, because something could happen, such as if they see another dog, they could take off.”
This is something that I would soon discover was very, very true.
“The third command,” continues McIntosh, “is, ‘on by,’ and that is to keep going, on by … that is to pass. Or it can also direct the dogs to keep going if a loose dog is coming near you.”
Before heading outside, with a guide employee alongside, McIntosh offers a couple of other commands that should be familiar to the equine set — “gee” to turn right and “haw” to turn left — then it was off to meet the paw patrol.
“We’re going to go meet they dogs, they are all very friendly,” says McIntosh. “Piper is very friendly and he likes to jump up, so he could hit your chin.”
Five pairs of dogs harnessed, excitement pent-up and adventure awaiting, the group sets to sled off on this cool winter day.
We head out through The Narrows, under the bridge connecting Old Town to Latham Island through Back Bay, over to Jolliffe Island, a breeze through the woods, to the Snow Castle, then back to the compound. The dogs have the right of way over the ice road — and they use it.
The trip is a real hoot. The dogs seem to love it. As we forge some newer trails, we go through some deeper snow that requires a bit of extra kicking for the sleds. On the groomed parts, the fur really flies. And the added brakes on the sleds, while requiring some dexterity at first, do slow the eager beasts down.
Now I’m a tall person — six-foot-four — with a high-centre of ungainly gravity. I quickly find if I take my eyes off the poochy prizes to fiddle with a full-sized camera around my neck — sort of like when someone texts while drives — I would lose balance and find a new way to tumble onto the snow.
Being fully padded with cold-weather gear, I discover it’s actually fun to go for a roll into the white stuff. Except when the loose sled goes for a quick trip a few hundred feet away as the huskies go to sniff out a wandering friend.
I note that none of the others in my group seem to have any difficulty on the course. Apart from having to stop for me a couple of times as I pick myself up, dust my cameras off and get back on the horse, er … sled.
After the excursion, sipping on a warm drink, Farquharson says she really enjoyed the day.
“We could have picked sledding, where you’re just sitting on the sled, but we picked this because you’re working with the dogs,” she says. “It was a team effort. It was great. I almost had a couple of rollovers, but I didn’t. I put my one foot out and pushed off.
“And going through the trees, it was beautiful.”
Frederick says he learned a few dog-powered kick-sledding tricks.
“Bend your knees and keep your weight low,” he says, noting it’s also good to try to keep the front of the sled raised a bit. “I think it was a help that I used to skateboard.”
SunDog Adventures opened its doors Jan. 23.
Daily tours are 1.5 hours in length, including orientation. Group tours can be customized, to include, for example, the Back Bay ice caves.
McIntosh says the goal for the space is to create a one-stop shop for tourism operators. Dog sledding, kick-sledding, snowshoeing, ice fishing — and a programming space for events such as this month’s Aurora Photography Workshop series.
For more information, please visit: sundogadventures.ca
I suggest you do so soon, before this late-winter heat wave Yellowknife is now enjoying turns the frozen bay into so much mush.