1. How long have we been in the sled dog tour business?
44 years this winter!
The first 8 years were mainly hobby years as Paul combined a teaching career with his love for the sled dog sport. The last 28 years, we have been operating full time from South River, Ontario into Algonquin Park.
2. What are the qualifications and experience of your guides that lead the trips?
Our standards for our guiding staff are very high. Unlike canoeing, there are no industry standards for a dog sled expedition guide. So we developed our own.
To lead trips, we require 72-hour wilderness first aid certification and significant experience leading wilderness trips. CPR is also required and a sound knowledge of risk assessment and winter survival.
3. How much are guests involved in handling, harnessing and mushing the dogs?
On our expeditions, people aren’t guests! We call them participants.
From start to finish, our expeditions are a hands-on experience. We believe the more you participate, the more you will enjoy the experience. So we teach you the correct way to handle and harness the dogs. We expect you to drive the team. We expect you to be involved in their care and feeding. When the expedition is done, you will have learned at least the basics of dog sledding.
4. Do our guest drive their own team?
That depends on the length of the expedition, the size of the group and most importantly, your experience.
Our standard client team is 6 dogs with 2 persons per sled. One person drives while the other sits in the basket and positions are traded throughout the day as preferred.
All our teams are strong running units and, therefore, take considerable skill to handle safely. With good trail conditions, we can cover 75 kilometers (50 miles) in 4 hours. That is with a loaded sled and two people to a sled. We have found our 6 dog teams to be too powerful for most novice drivers. So, in the interest of your safety and the welfare of the dogs, we put two people to a team. We could cut the teams to 4 or 5 dogs but that really doesn’t slow them down very much. They are still able to average 12 miles an hour on good trails. Two people working together gives an extra set of hands to help with the running of the team and fresh legs for the next long hill.
We are flexible and will try to accommodate your needs. We do reserve the right to limit experience to Chocpaw experience as we do have set standards for the running of our dogs.
5. What kind of dogs do we use for these trips?
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 dogs lines must trace to the kennels of the racers in Alaska. Careful breedings allows us to produce dogs that want to work.
Our lines are drawn from long established lines that have proven themselves in harness and we have built on them to produce tough working dogs.
But having good lines and producing good dogs is only part of our challenge. The other important aspects involve conditioning, training, and discipline.
From the time the pups hit the ground there is a plan for their development and learning. Every interaction with the dog is a part of training and conditioning; physical, emotional, and social. We are fortunate to have an outstanding staff that works year round with the dogs.
This is intensified in early September when we start conditioning the dogs using a wheeled rig. By snow time, the dogs are well on their way to being solid team members.
6. Are the dogs well socialized to people? Children as well?
We run the full gamut of dog personalities in the kennel from the extrovert to the introvert and all the degrees in between. Most are very outgoing and love attention. Some are very shy and prefer to be left alone to do what they love to do , work in harness. These shy dogs have formed the essential attachments to one or two significant and constant people in their lives. That is all they want and seem to need. We do not tolerate aggressive dogs or biters in the kennel.
We don’t believe anyone needs to be intimidated or bitten by a dog. Therefore, a dog that displays these characteristics does not stay in the kennel, nor is it sold to some unsuspecting soul.
We do have great confidence in our dogs that, treated with respect, they will respond appropriately. But they are dogs and they will react with the instincts of a dog.
Our dogs are not house pets.
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.
We expect them to behave and to be sociable – both the clients and the dogs. We are very careful allowing small children with the dogs.
These are strong animals that can knock a child down or, in exuberance, scratch a child. So we do insist on parental supervision of small children.
7. What is included in the price (food, gear, etc.)?
We offer a variety of experiences and packages and are flexible according to the needs and interests of our clients. As a general rule, participants are expected to supply appropriate clothing and a sleeping bag for our Algonquin trips. We provide you with a clothing guideline in advance of your trip to help you prepare. For the more extreme adventures, we supply all expedition outer clothing and a winter-weight sleeping bag.
8. What equipment is provided? Do we provide a recommended gear list?
We provide all equipment except clothing and a sleeping bag. We do have boots, mitts, hats, and sleeping bags for rent at a reasonable cost for those unable to secure suitable gear themselves. They must be reserved ahead of time and some items require a security deposit in case of loss or damage.
We do provide a gear list in advance of your expedition to help you prepare. Note that your guides will do a gear and clothing check before each trip to be sure that everyone is properly clothed and outfitted.
9. What kind of meals do we provide?
Winter travel gives us the option of transporting frozen meats and vegetables.
- Sample Breakfasts:– bacon, oatmeal, English muffins, jam, honey, juice, coffee, tea, hot chocolate- sausage, pancakes, syrup, juice, coffee, tea, hot chocolate
- Lunch: We serve a standard trail lunch of soup and sandwiches and a trail bar. Juice is available throughout the day
- Sample Suppers:– steak, corn, potato wedges, nanaimo bars – chicken breasts, stir-fry,
rice, butter tart squares
A final lunch is served at the shop consisting of chili and toast, veggies and dip.
We rely on the culinary expertise of the group for new and interesting recipes. As well, guides all have their favorite treats they like to prepare for their groups.
We are prepared for vegetarians and can accommodate most food allergies and special diets with particular considerations for considerations for participants with nut allergies.
10. What kinds of accommodations will be used (tents, cabins, etc.)?
In Algonquin Park, we have preset base camps consisting of large heated prospector tents. We can accommodate up to 21 people in each camp. The tents have a raised plywood sleeping platform, and on top of that, we put ensolite sleeping pads. The tents are quite roomy and comfortable. Our groups like the open concept of the big tents, as it is more conducive to promoting group cohesion.
We also use smaller traveling tents of the snowwalker design which are 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 also do cold camping for groups or individuals looking for that type of 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. For the really rugged, we will sleep under the stars.
11. Is experience required? What level of physical fitness is required?
No experience is necessary for our Algonquin sledding adventures.
We do complete a thorough instruction in dog sledding and winter trekking and camping. Our guides are excellent teachers. We do recommend that you have previous experience before attempting the more extreme trips.
We claim 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.
12. How much time in a day is spent on the trail and what is the distance we will cover?
Our camps are in the range of 20-25 miles apart, so it is necessary to cover at least that distance every day. On good, fast trails with a good group, we can do that in 2½ to 3 hours. For some groups, that is enough for one day. For others, they have the option of dropping their gear and doing an extended afternoon run.
Our farthest camp is 47 miles from the kennel and some groups have opted to make that run on their final day.
13. Do we have liability insurance to cover all of the activities you offer?
We carry a comprehensive liability insurance package and will provide a statement of this coverage on request.
14. Have we ever had an accident in which a guest was injured?
Yes, clients have been injured while dog sledding; none seriously.
Sprains, strains and bruises mostly. Dog sledding is a fast-moving sport in an environment beset with obstacles and uneven terrain. It takes place in extreme temperatures.
We 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 of injury.
Every person who enrolls in our programs must recognize that there are hazards and injury may occur.
All our clients are required to sign a waiver that states they recognize and accept these risks.