Like any other 90’s kid who grew up watching Balto, dog-sledding was on my life list. What could be better than racing across the snow with a team of loving dogs?
Of course, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that dog-sledding is not for the faint of heart and requires a huge amount of time, money and dedication. Luckily, we visited Nita with Sirius Sled Dogs for a half day sled on the very last day it was possible to sled.
Her home is about 25 miles outside of Fairbanks (again, you really have to rent a car when visiting), atop Lincoln Hill, overlooking stunning views of the ridges and valleys surrounding the area. It was truly breath-taking.
When she says “the dogs have the run of the place,” it’s no joke. They have their own cabin where they live, lounging on the couches. We first met the team in the cabin, seeing a little pup and all of the variety in their coats, coloring, and personalities.
Managing a team of sled dogs requires thoughtfulness, because just like a group of people, they have very distinct personalities that have to be paired well. They are energetic, but also well-trained (out of necessity – Nita is outnumbered about 20 to 1).
With three of us, one person rode in a sled, while the other two drove, and we switched out throughout the tour. It’s certainly not “easy.” Dog sledding requires strength and balance, as well as some level of cardio fitness.
Taking sharp turns might require you to hop off quickly or lean heavily to one side while balanced on just one runner, without falling (pretty sure we all failed at this). The first part of the tour goes down a steep, sharp curve; my cousin flew off rather spectacularly into the snow. It was an epic start to our adventure.
Nita engaged us in driving the sledges throughout the entire tour, from learning all of the steering equipment, to helping rearrange the dogs’ lines or positions as needed. Initially, we wanted to do a full-day or multi-day tour – but a few hours proved to be just the right amount for our frozen fingers and toes.
The temperatures when we visited were quite warm – ranging from 20-40F – so, not only was the snow quickly disappearing, but it was simply too hot for the huskies. They enjoy below freezing temperatures. We had to frequently stop during our tour for the dogs to settle into the snow just to cool down.
After our sledding, we returned to the dogs’ cabin to enjoy some hot chocolate and dote upon the huskies with treats and belly rubs. Nita answered all our questions about raising the dogs, training them, and what life is generally like in Fairbanks. It was probably the best portrait of life in Alaska that we received on our entire trip.
Between the gear, healthcare for the dogs, shelter, and massive amounts of food they eat, Nita conducts her tours just to break even and cover the costs. Mushers who compete in major races require significant sponsorship and funding just to operate a successful team. It’s clearly a labor of love, and there is no question that Nita treats each of her dogs like family.
Having read reviews on many dog sledding companies in Fairbanks, Nita was one of the most well-recommended, and I’m happy to agree. She takes wonderful care of her dogs and is an all around lovely person. If you get the chance, sign up for sledding with her – she even offers two guest rooms for rent if you want to spend extra time learning about life as a musher!