Last winter, I travelled up north to the Yukon Territory in Canada. This far north, the air is rarified indeed and the truly stunning landscape takes your breath every time you step outside or catch a glimpse of it through an open window. The air is frosty, but the people are toasty and so welcoming that it soon warms the cockles and biggest danger isn’t frost bite: it’s that once you set foot in the Yukon, you may never want to leave.
And what’s one of the best winter activities in the Yukon? Dog sledding, of course!
Dog Sledding at Muktuk Adventures
I felt a little ambivalent about the dog sledding. Stories of stirring animosity among the pack to encourage them to run faster and putting them down once their purpose was served abound. But the minute I stepped onto the Muktuk ranch, I knew I was going to love it. Here the dogs have access to each other so that they can play and socialize. The retired dogs wander freely around the farm and those that are crotchety are even allowed to sleep in the lodge. Here, the dogs definitely come first.
Owner, accomplished musher, winner of the Yukon Quest, and local legend Frank Turner laughs at my observations of his pristine facilities.
“This is a like a non-profit business that takes care of dogs. Between dog food and vets, all the money we make goes back into the dogs,” he says. “The way I look at it, whatever we put back into them, pales in comparison to what we get out. This farm, and all that we have is thanks to the dogs.”
Frank and his wife Anne Taylor have lovingly crafted the ranch into a facility for dogs and the people who love them. They have about 120 dogs of which about 80 are working dogs and the rest are retired. They shy away from breeding, preferring instead to give homes to dogs from the pound.
“We work closely with the local shelter. If they have a dog who hasn’t been adopted and looks like it can be a good fit for the team, we’ll adopt them rather than breeding,” says Taylor. “It’s a win/win situation. We also take dogs from community members who have passed on.”
A Social Approach
Franks has an extensive background in social work and brings this experience with him to the kennels where the focus is on relationships and experience.
“The values and the ethics for the kennel come from my work with First Nations communities,” he says. “There is a focus on teamwork which is a break from the previous team management style of whip cracking. Our dogs are very sociable and it’s not to my credit: we have some incredible people here that are very committed and very passionate about the dogs and that’s what people get to experience when they visit us.”
In the winter, visitors to Muktuk can enjoy the wonders of dog sledding with long runs out along the frozen banks of the river. It really is an extraordinary experience, especially since you get to mush yourself. The scenery is incredible and the dogs are a delight. You can opt for a day trip (but you will find this all too fleeting) or stay in the cabins which accommodate two to six guests. You can also go on camping trips where you ride out with our own team and experience the wilds of the boreal forest.
The summertime is a great time to visit too. While there isn’t any sledding, you can enjoy the beauty of the Muktuk farm and the hospitality of the locals. As Turner says: “In the summer, the dogs get to play and swim in the river and the visitors to the cabins let them sleep inside the cabins with them. We want the dogs to be happy and to play.”
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The writer was a guest of Travel Yukon. The tourism board did not review or approve this article.