Switzerland: Dogsledding with huskies in Crans Montana
The dogs are jumping and barking of excitement as I approach them in my thick winter coat, and I’m greeted by both them and their owner, Pierre-Antoine Héritier. A skilled ‘husky musher’ who has more than 30 years of experience with dogsledding, and who is now offering tourists to come along and try this activity in the Swiss Alps. Dogsledding is something I have been dreaming of trying since I was a kid, and now I have come to the snowclad resort of Crans Montana in the bilingual (French and German) canton of Valais.
Pierre-Antoine tells me the dogs are eager to go, as they haven’t been pulling the sleigh for a couple of days. And I admire his patience as he sorts out the dogs and their tangled leashes – and tells me to stand on the sleigh’s big break, so the dogs don’t run off with it too early.
They are Siberian Huskies. Strong and agile dogs that are born to run, and equipped with a thick double coated fur that can withstand freezingly low temperatures. Pierre-Antoine has participated in many dogsledding-races around the world, and still do from time to time, but he is now mainly focused on tourism-based trips in Valais. Here he has a kennel with no less than 40 huskies, and today he has brought along 8 of them to pull us both along the snowy trails that have been groomed mainly for skiers.
The dogs are very friendly and they enjoy some cuddles, but at the same time they’re following Pierre-Antoine’s preparations closely, as they can’t wait to start running. And finally we pull the two metal anchors from the snow, and give them a signal to go. I sit down comfortably on the sleigh, while Pierre-Antoine stands on the back of it and keep his feet near the breaks. And I’m sure happy we have those, because when the dogs start running they pull us across the snowy surface surprisingly fast.
It’s exciting to feel their happiness for running and pulling the sleigh. I’m not normally a fan of animal-based tourism attractions, but this sure is very different. The dogs are not forced in any way, and they would actually go crazy if they couldn’t make use of their high energy level on a daily basis. And that’s why it’s important to think twice before deciding to buy a husky yourself.
So, here we slide through breathtakingly beautiful alpine landscapes, with views to mountain peaks and snowclad pine trees. We pass wooden chalets covered in white and skiers who turn their heads to catch a glimpse of the beautiful dogs.
I’m mesmerized by their hard working team effort while trying to decide whether to look at the dogs or the scenery around us. Luckily there is time for both – and also time for me to try “taking the wheel”. It is easy as the dogs know the route very well and only slow down a bit when the path splits in two ahead, as they wait for directions from Pierre-Antoine – looking back at him as they appear to be asking left or right? And in dogsledding-terms “Haw” is left – “Gee” is right.
I’m happy we also have time for a photo-stop, because the combination of these precious animals and the alpine skyline beyond them is jaw-droppingly beautiful. But if we wait too long the dogs become impatient as they want to keep going.
About half an hour after setting out, the dogs pull full strength back down the track, so snow and bits of ice come flying from their paws. What a way to travel – I’m loving every second!
My dogsledding experience was done in Aminona, which isn’t far from the heart of the Crans Montana resort. But through Pierre-Antoine’s Swiss Mushing Company you can book husky-trips in several other areas around Valais and beyond. You’ll find much more information on his website at swissmushingcompany.ch – and about the general tourism in the area on www.crans-montana.ch.
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