How long have you been in the dog sled tour business?
Chocpaw Expeditions has been operating dogsled tours for over 40 years. The initial 8 years were mainly hobby, as owner Paul Reid combined his teaching career with his passion for mushing. Nearly 30 years ago Paul and his wife Marg made the move to South River, ON and began full-time operations of expeditions to Algonquin Park.
What kind of dogs do you use for these expeditions?
We have developed a line of Alaskan Sled Dogs with friendly dispositions that are bred to enjoy the work of the trail. To be called Alaskans, a dog’s lines must trace to the kennels of the racers in Alaska. We breed predominately for three qualities – endurance, speed, and temperament. For more information on our dogs and breeding program, check out the Meet Our Dogs page.
Are the dogs well socialized to people? How about children?
In the kennel, we breed especially for good temperament in dogs. Our dogs have to be social for the large number of participants they will interact with each season. Like people, they all have individual personalities and some are more outgoing than others. The shy dogs in the kennel still love what they do, love to run and be a part of the team; they just may take more time to warm up to you. In the case of shy dogs, you will notice that they have usually bonded quite closely with members of our guiding staff. We do not tolerate aggressive behaviour, or biting, from any of our dogs. If dogs begin to show aggressive behaviour, our staff work extensively with them to correct it. We will not send out dogs on expeditions that are not prepared to interact with participants.
It is important to keep in mind that our dogs are not house pets. They are working animals, and have been trained to do a specific job – one that they happen to love! We have instilled in them a set of behavioral standards. We stress to all participants how to approach and treat the dogs with the respect they deserve.
As working dogs, many of them have not had direct interaction with small children. They are also very exuberant during certain times (hook-up and harnessing) and can unintentionally scratch or knock a child down. Therefore, we require direct supervision of small children by their parents at all times around the dogs, and in the kennel.
What qualifications or experience do Chocpaw guides have?
We have very high standards for our guiding staff. Unlike canoeing, there are currently no industry standards or training for dog sled expedition guides. Over our years of operation, we have developed our own apprenticeship program for all new guides.
At minimum, our guides come to us with a 72-80 hour Wilderness First Responder first aid certification, significant experience leading wilderness or back country expeditions, and a solid understanding of best risk management and winter survival practices. For six weeks leading up to the start of their first season, our guides participate in our apprenticeship program; they learn dog handling and dog team management skills, risk management particular to mushing environments, and they closely shadow our senior guides to grasp the full responsibilities of a Chocpaw Lead Guide.
What is included in the cost of a trip (food, accommodation, etc…)?
We offer a variety of experiences and packages and are flexible according to the needs and interests of our clients.
On our Day Trips and Algonquin Expeditions, all food is provided including 3 meals, plus a snack each day. For more information on meals, see our trip specific menu pages. On overnight or multi-night expeditions, accommodation at one of our camps in a wood-stove heated, Prospector Canvas Wall Tent is also provided. More adventurous participants may have the option of cold camping, should they choose.
As a general rule, participants are expected to supply appropriate clothing and a sleeping bag for our Algonquin trips. For a detailed list of how to dress for your dogsled adventure, please see our Dogsled Clothing Requirements document.
Before and after expeditions, many of our participants elect to stay nearby at local accommodations. Chocpaw does not include this in the cost of your trip; we also do not include the cost of transportation to and from our location. Our area is serviced by the Ontario Northland Bus service, however, there are no local taxis.
What kind of accommodations are available?
In Algonquin Park, we have pre-set base camps consisting of large, wood-stove heated Prospector canvas tents. We can accommodate up to 20 people in each camp. The tents have a raised plywood sleeping platform, and on top of that, we put insolite sleeping pads. Keep in mind that we are a wilderness expedition company, not a hotel, and some may find the camps rugged, with back-country conditions. We believe this is part of the challenge; part of the experience. Each camp is outfitted with an outhouse, with an insulating foam seat. We do not provide cabin accommodation; there is no running water in camp, we collect and purify lake water for drinking and in-camp use.
We also use smaller traveling tents of the snow walker design, also heated. This gives us freedom with small groups to explore new trails. These tents we have used in James Bay, Labrador, and Manitoba.
We do cold camping for groups or individuals looking for a more challenging experience. We do have small, unheated tents for this purpose. Some groups opt to build shelters, and we have traveled using quinzees and natural shelters. Our guides can support you in creating a magical night under the stars, tucked into your sled, should you be interested in that experience.
Some of our clients opt to stay at local accommodation before or after their trip. For more information on local accommodation or restaurants, see Places to Stay and Eat.
What equipment is provided? Do you provide a recommended gear list?
Chocpaw provides all equipment except clothing and a sleeping bag. We recommend that you bring a wide-mouth, refillable, hard plastic water bottle.
We do have boots, mitts, and sleeping bags available for rent. We request that you contact us to reserve rentals prior to your trip. To participate in one of our expeditions you must be adequately dressed, especially when it comes to boots. If your boots are deemed inadequate by one of our staff, you will be required to rent an appropriate pair. Proper boots for a dogsledding expedition are large fitting (up to a full size larger than your typical shoe size) waterproof or resistant with a removable liner.
Your guides will do a gear and clothing check before each trip to be sure that everyone is properly clothed and outfitted. To review clothing requirements and suggestions see our Clothing Requirements document.
What kind of meals do you provide? Do you accommodate for dietary restrictions?
We supply all food while you are on expedition. Our Dog Sled Expedition Menu is available here. We are prepared for vegetarians and can accommodate most food allergies and special diets. Chocpaw is a Nut Sensitive operation; all of our expeditions are packed Nut Sensitive, so please keep that in mind if you are considering bringing your own supplementary snacks. If you are planning a trip and you require food that is vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, or soy-free, be aware that there is an additional cost of $10 a day for alternative menu items.
Is experience required? What level of physical fitness is required?
No experience is necessary for our Algonquin sledding adventures.
All participants, new and returning, complete a thorough instruction at our office in dog sledding on the first morning of their expedition, prior to their arrival at the kennel. Our guides are excellent teachers. We do recommend that you have previous experience before attempting the more extreme trips.
We believe we can take anyone dog sledding, and have had clients of all ages and abilities. We gear the expedition to the physical fitness and ability level of the group. All expeditions do require participants to be willing to exert themselves, and challenge themselves physically. We find that clients have a more rewarding experience if they come mentally prepared for a challenge; there may be some jogging or running, handling the dogs can be strenuous for some individuals. As a fully participatory experience, we feel these are part of creating the sense of accomplishment inherent in our programs.
How much will I be involved in handling, harnessing, and mushing the dogs?
Chocpaw prides itself in having fully participatory dogsled experiences. That means that from start to finish, you will be directly involved in handling, harnessing and caring for your dog team. We believe the more you participate, the more you will enjoy the experience. We provide comprehensive instruction before the day begins, and teach you the correct way to handle and harness our dogs. Dog teams are driven by participant pairs, always two people to a sled. We provide a ‘crash course’ in dogsledding, and we expect our participants to immerse themselves in the experience. When your expedition is complete, you will have learned the basics of dogsledding!
Will I be driving my own sled?
On Chocpaw expeditions, most participants drive their own sleds, with a partner. The roles of driver and passenger can be switched throughout the day at your discretion. Depending on the number of people in your expedition, some participants may share a sled with one of our guides. Driving your own sled means that you and your partner are helping to care for and monitor the dogs on your team. Throughout the day the passenger will have responsibilities related directly to caring for the dogs, and for this reason we require every sled to have a minimum of two capable participants. If you have young children in your group, they will be added to sleds that already have two capable participants.
A typical sled has between 4 and 6 dogs, depending on the length of the expedition and the make-up of your group (children/youth/adults).
There may be some exceptions made on longer expeditions, or for our most experienced returning clients, however, these decisions are made on an individual basis, in collaboration with the Program Manager.
How much time in a day is spent on trail? What is the average distance covered?
On a typical day, a group will spend between 21/2 and 4 hours on trail, depending on the group’s size, ability, and weather and trail conditions. Our camps are in the range of 20-25 km apart, so it is necessary to cover at least that distance every day. For many groups, that is enough for one day. For eager groups, they have the option of dropping their gear and doing an extended afternoon run. The routes taken, and length of day is at the discretion of the guide. We trust our guides to make decisions, in conjunction with group leaders, that are appropriate for their expeditions.
Do you have liability insurance to cover all of the activities you offer?
Yes, we carry a comprehensive liability insurance package and will provide a statement of this coverage on request.
Have you ever had an accident in which a participant was injured?
We have had participants sustain minor injuries, none more serious than sprains, strains or simple fractures. We have never had a client who has been seriously injured from their participation. Dog sledding is a fast-moving sport in an environment beset with obstacles and uneven terrain. It takes place in extreme temperatures, and often a participant perceives there to be a larger degree of risk than actually exists.
Our guides assess the risks of the trails and the weather, and take every precaution to minimize the potential for injury, but we can not eliminate the possibility entirely. Every person who enrols in our programs must recognize that there are hazards, and that they are responsible for following guidelines and instructions to ensure their safety. We require participants to understand and accept the risks associated with our activities, by signing an Assumption of Risk and Responsibility Waiver document.