Dog sledding may be one unconventional way to create that magical memory with that special someone.
The sport of dog sledding was a dream turned reality in 1983 by Snowy Owl Dog Sled Tours founder Connie Arsenault of Canmore, Alta. and her husband, Charles Arsenault, who died in 2006.
Currently, siblings Carlin Kimble and Jereme Arsenault share ownership of the business.
“Valentine’s Day is one of our busiest days,” says Kimble.
Kimble says many couples have gotten engaged on their tour because of its uniqueness and the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to drive your own dog team.
There are also people who are checking off their bucket list, people with a terminal illness, and those who come every year “to repeat their favourite tour.”
“We have people from all walks of life coming dog sledding,” she says.
“It’s cool to see people change and let their guards and boundaries down and be in that moment.”
Part of the magic is the connection the riders and operators make with the dogs.
The dogs are eager to please, but they do like encouragement.
The four main commands are hike, easy, whoa, and on by. But one can hear many cheers and words of gratitude for the dogs as the riders quickly learn that if you love your dogs, they will love you back.
“They love to develop a relationship with you.”
The experience can pull people out of their comfort zones. The feeling of vulnerability and humility, Kimble says, is an opportunity for people to learn something about themselves.
Calgary couple Kurt Varangu and Jenalee Anderson, who enjoyed their ride on Jan. 20, said it would be a very romantic idea for Valentine’s Day.
“With an operator, you could snuggle together in the sled,” said Anderson.
The couple was impressed with the friendliness of the dogs and how much they seemed to enjoy the pull.
For those who question the safety and health of sled dogs, Kimble says that before anyone heads out on a tour with a company, it is important to feel comfortable that the dogs are well-taken care of.
“I do think it is important for people to do their research. These animals are not just here for your entertainment.”
She cautions people to be careful of tours that offer cheap rates because it costs a lot to take proper care of the Huskies and dog sledding is still “self-regulated.”
“We can only ask so much from our dogs, and only ask as much as we are able to give back.”
Some dogs, like Cashew, are more dedicated workers and that has to be monitored carefully so they don’t work themselves too hard.
She says that one who knows dogs can tell the health of an animal by its demeanour, coat, weight, eyes and teeth.
When dynamics change and it is no longer fun for the dog, Snowy Owl has an adoption program where families can adopt an older, socialized dog.
The challenge then is to find a home where the dog will be cared for to “the standard (they) insist on.”
Kimble’s husband and director of operations Ethan Kimble, who has been with Snowy Owl since 2004, knows the names of all of the 180 dogs in the pack.
“They are like our children,” says Ethan Kimble.
The six breeds of Huskies are all named according to their family, with the names that match a chosen category.
For example, Cashew’s family are all named after types of nuts. There are also families named for cars, metal bands and even varieties of cheese.
When breeding, the dogs’ physical characteristics, as well as diversity in personalities, are taken into consideration.
Snowy Owl has rescued about 40 dogs in the past 15 years. Its current rescues are six dogs from Huntsville, Ont., after a kennel was shut down and the owner charged with animal cruelty. Many of the dogs were used for dog sledding.
Snowy Owl has also experienced dogs adopting each other’s puppies.
When sisters Beretta and Tikka had puppies at the same time, Berreta only had four pups, and Tikka had 10.
So three of Tikka’s puppies were moved over to Beretta to help with Tikka’s milk supply. Beretta cared for, cleaned, and fed the puppies like they were her own.
Alberta Parks and Travel Alberta has granted Snowy Owl permission to operate sled tours in Spray Lakes Provincial Park. The tour prices depend the on the length of time and number of people in the sled.
Information on booking, what to wear, and pricing can be found on the Snowy Owl website.