There’s something about experiencing Greenland’s majestic landscapes from the perspective of a dog sled that snowmobiling or a ski tour simply cannot match. Maybe it is the slower pace that gives plenty of time to take in all the impressions or maybe it is the combination of sled dogs panting plus the rhythmic beat of their large paws, a sound that is suddenly magnified against a backdrop of pure silence.
Enjoying this fascinating experience of man and dog working together in nature does necessitate a small tolerance for chilly temperatures, but Arctic fanatics are not the only ones that can take pleasure in dog sledding. Even if the cold typically does not agree with you, there is nothing a cup of hot tea, borrowed sealskin garb, and a blanket made of reindeer skin can’t fix.
“It was fantastic going on the sled to see the views on the mountains! And the action of it – I loved going fast!”
“It was fantastic, exciting, and exhilarating! Putting on the sealskin clothes, speeding across the frozen fjord...”
Dog sledding is, no doubt, a classic way to experience Arctic nature, but what the unsuspecting visitor does not know, and what is unique about dog sledding in Greenland, is that a heavy dose of Inuit culture comes along for the ride. Dog sledding helps tell the story of how Greenlanders adapt to the robust environment that surrounds them. Contrary to other Arctic locations, dog sledding in Greenland is a way of life, by choice if not by necessity. Living in and off of the nature is central to Greenlandic identity, and therefore when you are close to the nature, you are also close to the Greenlandic culture.
Greenlandic Sled Dogs
Spending an afternoon riding along with Greenlandic sled dogs is something you won’t soon forget. They have a commanding presence with their shrill voices and thick winter coats that allow them to endure winter’s wrath.
The energy level and endurance of sled dogs is unmatched, and it seems the command ‘Go’ is completely unnecessary as they are constantly in ‘Go’ mode! Sled dogs howl and jump at the mere sight of the musher, and you better hold on to your dog sled or else these instinctive pullers will speed off without you!
- Dog sledding in Greenland has been a mode of transportation and hunting for approximately 5000 years. Recently, it has also become a leisure activity for Greenlanders and tourists.
- An annual dog sledding competition, called Avannaata Qimussersua, takes place in North Greenland.
- Sled dogs territory is in towns above the Arctic Circle on Greenland’s west coast and in all towns on the east coast.
- Sled dogs are a very ‘pure’ breed due to strict crossbreeding regulations. No other breeds are allowed into sled dogs territory. If sled dogs leave the area, they cannot return.
- Sled dogs have a special ability to read the environment. For example, they can sense when ice is too thin to cross, and they will stop.
The Art of Mushing
The sled dogs provide the power, but the real star in the dog sledding world is the musher. Greenlanders are a people of few words and are often taken as shy, but accompany them mushing a pack of sled dogs and their presence will suddenly be known. With a handful of command calls and a formidable whip as their only tools, the mushers skillfully drive their packs of sled dogs in order to safely reach their favorite fishing hole or hunting grounds.
Mastering the art of mushing is vital to prevent sled dogs’ disobedience from turning into a matter of life or death, and in Greenland the learning starts early. Passing from one generation to the next, children often have their own small sleds and even a few dogs of their own, though they are never mistaken that the dogs are working animals and not pets. It is a proud day when a Greenlander forms his first pack and leads it over mountains and sea ice.
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