On a crisp winter day, our coldest day so far, with a brilliant blue sky, I got going early at about 7:15 am and drove about 20 minutes from Banff to the tourist town of Canmore. This mountain town is located about an hour from Calgary, just 5 minutes outside the gates to the Banff National Park and is part of Kananaskis County , one of the main recreational areas just outside of Calgary. The Nakiska Ski area is not far from Canmore and it played host to the alpine events during the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.
Mural on a Canmore building
Canmore is nestled deep inside the Bow Valley beneath the Front Ranges of the Canadian Rockies. Due to the beauty of the surrounding wilderness areas, several Hollywood movies have been filmed here, including movies such as Legends of the Fall and Dances with Wolves.
The development of this area really took off when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) constructed its railway line through the mountains in 1888, providing convenient access to mining companies looking to tap into the area’s rich coal deposits. Canmore was founded shortly after and attracted prospectors which were soon followed by hotels, restaurants and shops. The North West Mounted Police had an outpost here with a “two man and two horse barrack” and at some point Canmore even had an opera house.
Mining came to an end in 1979, but today Canmore has developed into a major recreational centre that attracts athletes, artists, nature lovers and adventure seekers. That was the category that I fell into today, as I was seeking out a truly unusual adventure: Dog sledding!
Punctually at 8:15 am I arrived at the retail outlet of Snowy Owl Adventures to be included in their 2-hour “Power Hound Express” tour that was to start at 9 am. The retail outlet itself features a variety of clothing, souvenirs, pictures and books with a dog sledding theme. I also rented big insulated boots to make sure my feet wouldn’t get cold on this very brisk winter day.
The trailer that holds the transport kennels
A group of about 9 or 10 people were ready to get out on the trails, to be pulled by a group of enthusiastic canine athletes. Our group had travelers from various parts of Canada, Texas, England and Holland and everybody was excited to get out there. Chris, our driver, packed us into a van and up we went into the mountains. We drove by several extremely scenic drinking water reservoirs and about 20 minutes later we arrived in the Spray Lakes area of Kananaskis County, very close to the Three Sisters Hydroelectric Generating Station.
Our safety instruction begins
The first thing we saw was the trailer with the transport kennels for the sled dogs and five teams of enthusiastic canines were already waiting for us. Jereme, one of our dog sledding guides, gave us a half hour safety presentation and instructions on how to ride the sled. That’s where my first big surprise came in: I didn’t realize that we ourselves would get a chance to drive the sled, I had assumed that we’d simply be packed into the sled and the guides would be driving us.
But no, there are actually 3 options for dogsledding adventurers: you can sit comfortably inside the sled and be driven by a guide; you can drive the dog team one-on-one together with one of the instructors; or you can actually drive the sled dog team yourself with the company of family and friends, following one of the instructors. So for all the real adventurers out there: this is an opportunity to get behind the sled and drive the dog sled team yourself!
The calm before the storm….