December 12, 2015

Cry mush, and let slip the dogs of snow!

It doesn't feel like a proper winter week in the Rockies if you don't get outdoors to do at least three different recreational activities. In the course of seven days, we'll typically tick off skating, skiing and snowshoeing.

Heading towards the Continental Divide

Megan Routley, owner of Kingmik, plus yours trulies.
Well this week, we added a new pastime into the mix: dogsledding. For over 30 years, Kingmik Dog Sled Tours has been operating in Lake Louise, and we finally joined them for a two hour trip. It was an excellent adventure: with Kingmik owner Megan Routley as our musher, host, and story-teller, we were pulled by a team of eight dogs, and, boy, do they ever love to run. We simply flew along the trail, covering 16 km at a speed that would make a cross-country skier jealous. It was a beautiful day, with snow draped on the trees, and the swish of the sled runners as the soundtrack.

It was also an interesting experience for us nature nuts, because the sled dog is a wonderful mixture of nature's handiwork and the triumph of centuries of breeding. Kingmik's pooches are all Alaskan huskies, and no two of them look alike. They are multi-coloured, and come in all sizes. We wondered, “Where are the huskies that we see in the movies, or as plush toys?” It turns out that those pretty boys are Siberian huskies, and these days they're mostly bred for looks. Alaskan huskies are bred to run, so it doesn't matter what they look like. They represent the end point of several thousand years of people's effort to create dogs that can do two things: run fast and run far. After we finished our tour, it looked like they would happily have gone out for another ten mile jaunt.

The leaders of the pack.

Megan told us that sled dogs may be the ultimate athletes. They have been the subject of physiology research (if you want some nice light reading, try “Metabolic Strategies for Sustained Endurance Exercise: Lessons from the Iditarod.”), and when in peak condition, they can put out a sustained effort of up to 250 or 300 ml/kg/min VO2 max (this is the standard measure of maximum oxygen uptake, in millilitres of oxygen per kilogram of body mass per minute). For perspective, the finest endurance athletes, like cyclists and cross-country skiers, have never been able to crack even 100 ml/kg/min VO2 max.

Along the 1A, with Mount Fairview in the background.

To be pulled through a beautiful landscape by such superbly conditioned dogs was a real treat, and we recommend it for anyone wanting to add a new winter activity to their checklist. Thanks, Megan.