Why you should care
Because it’s two bucket-list items at once.
Alaska, the summer playground of cruising baby boomers seeking glaciers and bears, is now attracting a younger traveler in the flip season. These newcomers are braving the Arctic weather to sample unusual pursuits — like dog sledding and hunting for the northern lights, preferably at the same time.
Picture this: Dashing through the snow in a four-dog open sleigh in a remote landscape cloaked in white, under a night sky shimmering green and red. No, you’re not in Tahoe. There’s only one place in the United States to experience dog mushing under an aurora borealis show: the Last Frontier, and only during the narrow window of December through April.
The most magical mushing is during a full moon, says Carl Dixon. “All you hear is the swish of the sled runners.”
Atlanta resident Carl Remi Beauregard and friends hired Fairbanks-based outfitter Paws for Adventure to teach them the official sport of Alaska. They mushed 25 miles, each on their own sled, to a heated base camp for a sleepover and a hearty Mexican meal, and then returned. The cost: about $700 each. An outing that would have been an exhausting activity on foot or skis turned into a contemplative session of listening to aspen trees rustle — like meditation in uninhabited surroundings. Because that kind of quiet is hard to find. “Even in national parks, you’re not usually far from anything,” Beauregard says.
The most magical mushing is during a full moon, says Carl Dixon, owner of Winterlake Lodge, near Anchorage. “All you hear is the swish of the sled runners. You rely on the dogs’ sense of where the trail is. It really is being with the animals.” (And in an up-close and personal way: Nobody tells you this, but dogs poop while they run.) On a trip you may spot moose, river otters and wolf tracks (the wolves themselves are elusive). Another outfitter, Blue Kennels, promises polar bears, Inupiat culture and a dog sledding tour. Earth Song Lodge offers mushing in Denali National Park during the northern lights, with exclusive use of patrol cabins for overnights. Lengths of these trips vary. It depends on a guest’s comfort level, something Dixon assesses during intro mushing classes. Usually skiers and horseback riders have an easier time.
Joyce Tischler, an attorney for the Northern California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund, would prefer you strapped on skis. The mushing industry isn’t regulated, she says. Dogs like to run, but not miles, according to Tischler. “When money and animals combine, the animal’s interests aren’t usually considered.”
Of course, if you’re not a fan of freezing temperatures, you should head to the 50th state — not the 49th — for your winter or spring getaway. “I wore all my winter clothes … I was eight layers deep,” recalls Beauregard. The thick-coated Alaskan husky, on the other hand, thrives on the -30F weather. And be prepared to be unconnected from the world. Your iPhone likely won’t work, so Instagramming those lights is not going to happen. But that’s part of the novelty of the experience. Take a GoPro — or just enjoy the ride.