Huskies love to run – really really fast. Penny Bunting and her family embark on an exhilarating adventure – without snow – in Norway
Born to run
Husky sledding is high up on many people's bucket lists – and Norway is one of the best places in the world to try this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
But what if you're visiting Scandinavia in summer, when all the snow and ice has melted? Happily, a summer alternative to dog sledding is available – using specially built carts instead of sledges. This means you can experience the thrill of being pulled along by a team of huskies even when there's not a flake of snow on the ground.
Beitostølen is a small, quiet, family-friendly ski resort, 30 minutes south of the spectacular Jotunheimen National Park, and around three and a half hour's drive north of Oslo. With gentle rolling slopes that are perfect for downhill beginners or cross-country skiers – and plenty of activities for non-skiers, including sledging, snowshoe hiking and husky sledding – it's a great place for a winter adventure.
But Beitostølen is also a good base for summer mountain activities. There are some excellent hiking opportunities, with the starting point for the Besseggen Ridge walk – one of Norway's most celebrated hikes – a short drive away. And with places to swim, cycle and canoe it would be easy to spend a full and active week in the area.
The main reason for our visit to Beitostølen, though, was huskies. Beito Husky Tours are based just outside Beitostølen, and their two-and-a-half hour Husky Cart Safari is an exciting, snow-free journey through beautiful scenery.
Along with our two daughters we met our guide, the lovely Elin, at the company's headquarters on the shores of Lake Øyangen, before driving into a landscape of rolling, forested hills and tumbling rivers to begin our adventure.
Before we unloaded the dogs from their mobile kennel, Elin gave us a health and safety briefing and showed us how the carts worked, making sure we understood how to steer and brake. She explained that the brake would be needed on downhill stretches, but when going uphill we would need to hop off and push the cart a little to give the dogs a helping hand.
Husky sledding or carting is a very hands-on activity and the Beito Husky Tours experience is perfect for dog-lovers, as you interact with the dogs at every stage – including harnessing them to the carts and checking the dogs' comfort and safety throughout the experience.
For our trip we used three teams of huskies, with five dogs in each team. Elin knew not only all their names, but also all their individual personalities.
Above: Our guide, Elin, with two of her faithful friends
As we harnessed the dogs to the carts, Elin introduced us to each animal – from gentle, blue-eyed Voss and lovable siblings Christiano and Lilli, to feisty, over-excitable Axel.
Huskies love to run. As soon as the harnessing began, an air of anticipation started amongst the animals. This increased to a crescendo of excitement by the time all the dogs were connected to the carts and ready to go – and we realised why the health and safety briefing had happened before the dogs had been harnessed up! With the dogs barking, jumping and straining eagerly at their harnesses, Elin gave us a quick reminder about how everything worked, the kids jumped into the comfy, fur-lined passenger seats at the front of the carts – and then we were off!
Elin led the way with her team, and I released the brake to follow her. A rush of adrenalin surged through me as my team shot off down the track.
We paused at a bubbling stream so that the dogs could have a drink, and swapped over to give the girls a chance to drive the cart. The carts are heavy, and youngsters need to be confident and strong to steer them – not a problem for our 14- and 12-year-old daughters. Elin had deliberately chosen a slightly uphill stretch – which would slow the dogs down a little – for the girls' first try.
The girls loved steering the carts, and when we stopped in a grassy meadow for tea and biscuits, they made friends with each of the huskies in their team. Soon it was time to head back, so – with frequent shouts of “Axel, Axel!” from Elin – we set off once more.
The return journey was equally beautiful and exhilarating, and before we knew it we were back at the starting point. We gave each dog a drink of water, and then helped Elin load them all back into the van.
Saying goodbye to the dogs was hard – especially for the girls, who had become very fond of “their” team, even in such a short space of time. This was hardly surprising – huskies are simply adorable – and “Mum, can we get a husky?” was a frequently repeated question during the following week.
This was, indeed, a once-in-a-lifetime experience – one that we'd all love to try again some day!
Time to relax
The perfect antidote to the thrills of the morning Husky Cart Safari is a gentle paddle on Lake Øyangen. Beito Husky Tours rents out canoes – or you can arrange a canoe tour, including a wilderness lunch cooked over an open fire, with an experienced guide. Beito Husky Tour's canoes are sit-on-top Mad River Adventure canoes – easy to paddle and very stable, which makes them perfect for families and a relaxing experience for all.
Lake Øyangen is a large, serene expanse of sparkling clear water, dotted with little islands and with breathtaking views towards the mountains. On the afternoon we visited we had it all to ourselves – which just added to the tranquility of the setting.
A relaxing paddle took us across to a small island where we landed and scrambled ashore to explore, climbing a steep wooded hill through a carpet of blueberry bushes to reach a vantage point with spectacular lake views. Then it was back to the canoes to explore more islands and take in the scenery as we glided through the water.
The combination of exhilarating husky carting and peaceful paddling on the lake was a perfect way to spend a day – and this was a day that we would all remember for a long time!
Huskies can run really, really fast, and at first the speed – not to mention the immense power of the animals – took my breath away. Once I realised I could slow them by braking, that the cart was easy to steer and that I actually felt in control, I began to relax and enjoy the ride.
One advantage of dog sledding in summer is that you get to enjoy the magnificent Norwegian scenery in glorious technicolour. The blues and greens of sky, streams, woods and mountains were beautiful. The weather is another obvious bonus: the warm sunshine meant we had soon stripped off outer layers and were speeding along in jeans and t-shirts – no numb fingers or frostbitten toes here!
Where to stay
Beitostølen Gjestegaarden offers modern, self-catering apartments sleeping up to seven people. It's right in the centre of the village so within walking distance of bars, shops, restaurants and all activities – with chairlifts directly opposite. The apartments are spacious, clean, well-equipped and pleasantly furnished, with a large supermarket just across the road – perfect for self-catering.
Green Adventures April 2016