A drive across the St. Lawrence river and out into the snowy countryside brought us to Adventure Nord-bec, where Denis Montminy and his staff were waiting to take us on our adventure. A breeder of Alaskan malamutes for over twenty-five years, Denis deservedly takes great pride in his pack of 160 dogs. Ninety of his dogs are the beautiful, powerful Alaskan Malamute, first cousin to the wild wolves that roam the north country. These dogs weigh in at between 100 and 150 pounds and are known for their strength, endurance and power. Next to the Malamutes, 70 of the smaller Siberian Huskies are tethered. We are told that the dogs are all gentle, friendly and safe to be around, as we soon discover for ourselves. The dogs are very affectionate with their handlers and enjoy the attention of visitors. I ran my hand through the long, thick fur in the glorious mane of one of these beautiful creatures. He obviously enjoyed the attention. When I went to leave, he caught hold of my long, red scarf with his mouth and gently tugged trying to get me to come back to play.
As we became acquainted with the dogs, the guides started getting the sleds ready for our adventure. With the first hint of the upcoming sled run, the dogs began to get excited. First one set up a low howl , then others joined into the song. In no time there was a rising crescendo of howls, as all 160 dogs joined in the chorus. The opportunity to run obviously is much coveted by all the mature dogs. They are born to run. It is their greatest reward in life. The chosen dogs were soon being taken to be harnessed to the sleds. In their eagerness to run, I note that once unleashed, some are half carried by the handlers, to prevent them getting a premature start. The four dogs who were to pull our sled were named: Yukon, Grizzly, Kovik and Alaska. Three had thick, heavy coats of black, white and gray fur, each with his own unique markings. The fourth was unusual though, with a coat of shades of rust and white. I was told that only one dog in a hundred has this rare coloring. To keep the peace, there is only one female in each team. As they waited for the journey to begin, a snow brake was applied.
Prior to our journey we were given instructions on the handling of the sleds. We were reassured that experienced guides would be with our group at all times. We could chose to ride in the sled or on the rungs at back, where we would be responsible for controlling the speed of the sled. Each sled is fitted with a brake, a metal crossbar between the runners. It must be applied when the lead sleds slow for some reason, or there is a downhill slope or a sharp bend in the trail.
Soon the first sleds began to pull out. Within seconds I felt the exhilarating cold air hit my face as the dogs reached their stride. I pulled my woolen scarf up around my nose and mouth and was quite warm again. The sled glided along twisting and turning on the trail. An occasional dip in the trail caused a sharp bump, but otherwise the biggest challenge was to prevent the dogs from overtaking the sled skimming along ahead of us. These dogs are specially bred for this role and do not slack off once the run begins. Strength, manageability and a good disposition are important qualities in sled dogs.
Occasionally the procession of sleds slow or come to a stop. Being eager to run, the dogs will overtake the preceding team if given the opportunity. During one of these stops, I felt something at my elbow and turned to discovered the lead dog of the following team giving me a friendly sniff. During one of these stops I left the security of the sled to ride on the back runners. Here probably more than in the sled, one feels the speed of the sled's momentum, and above all, the thrill, as the wind whips past you. No matter from which position this adventure is being experienced, it is unique and exhilarating. All too soon it was over. Dog sledding is a wonderful adventure.
We returned to the chalet for a late lunch, where we were served a robust, typically French Canadian meal. After lunch, we donned snowshoes to go out on a trail again with Denis Montminy to guide us. A bit awkward at first, even this out-of-condition grandmother soon got the knack of walking with the big, flat, webbed shoes clamped with rubber flanges to my booted feet. The trail led through a lightly forested area, over a base of crisp, white snow. Denis proved an interesting guide as we trudged along, showing us signs of the inhabitants of the forest and giving us pointers on survival when camping in the snow.
Our adventure at an end, my friends and I agreed that we had all enjoyed our dog sledding experience immensely. It was thrilling! I came home feeling I now knew why our big, beautiful and gentle, Lobo always tried to answer the call of the wild and run. If you are visiting Quebec in winter, dog sledding is a unique adventure well worth trying.
Article and pictures by M. Maxine George
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Greater Quebec Area Tourism and Convention Bureau
399, rue Saint-Joseph Est, Quebec (Quebec) Canada G1K 8E2
Telephone: (418) 522-3511 Fax: (418) 529-3121
Bureau 400, 1010, rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest, Montreal (Quebec) H3B 1G2
Telephone: (514) 873-7977 Fax: (514) 873-9852
If you are interested in dog sledding contact:
Adventure Nordbec: Telephone (418) 889-8001 Fax: 889-8307
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