One of the main draws that lured me in to Canada and its snowy tundra was the thought of some furry four-legged friends waiting for us across the Atlantic. The day finally arrived when we could fulfil the dream: the sun dawned bright in a bluebird sky on the morning we set off on our adventure. We were collected a mere 2 mins from our house (at one of the nearby hotels) in a big minivan by 'Pedro el Cubano' who kept us entertained on the half-hour journey into Canmore. Stopping off at the offices in Canmore first allows you to pick up rental boots or gear if necessary, and buy any pre-souvenirs (such as some awesome dog harnesses) before piling back in the van and heading to Spray Lakes.
The scenery that greeted us as we wound up the mountain was spectacular - the road provided jaw-dropping birds-eye views over the top of Canmore, turning it into a toy town that unfolded beneath us. By the time we reached the head of the trail, we were practically bouncing in our seats with excitement. We were rewarded as we stepped down from the beast of a van; greeted by barking, woofing, and the occasional howl (from us as well as the dogs). We were allowed free rein to meet the huskies that were to be our sled-mates for the rest of the afternoon: and meet them we did. We cuddled, petted, and fussed over each and every pup (quite literally EVERY one… I had to be dragged away at one point) until we were called over for our instruction sesh. Jeremy, third-generation owner of the Snowy Owl Sled Dog company, talked us through everything we needed to know to become amateur Mushers. Halfway through his speech, whines and whimpers started to drown out his words of wisdom, until we couldn't hear ourselves think. The dogs were raring to go: straining against their harnesses, and jumping all over the place, they were eager to set off. I climbed into our sled, got tucked in with a cozy blanket, and waited for our cue to 'Hike'.
At the command, the dogs gleefully leapt into action (well, mostly - except for a few reluctant stragglers at the back) and we encouraged them with shouts of praise. The sled took off, bumping for the first few yards until the dogs settled into a smooth, steady pace. As we ventured along the trail, through woody patches of trees and around snowy bends, our guide Nick chatted away to us, answering all the questions we eagerly shot at him. We learnt about the dogs: their names, their diet, their routines, their backgrounds, and their breeds in minute detail, reaching the half-way point before we even realised it. Stopping along with the other sleds (with a resounding 'whoooooaaa'), we switched drivers. H was at the reins now, a somewhat daunting prospect for us both. We continued on our way, passing through shadowy forests and across snowy plains, stopping now and again for a poo break (the dogs not us). Towards the end of our trip, the path began to slope downwards to a lake, iced-over and perfectly still. The dogs didn't miss a beat, loping smoothly onto the foot of snow-covered ice that protected us from the freezing water below. The scenery opened out before us, the mountains looming majestically and the bright sunshine beating down to warm the frosty breeze. Crossing the lake, we fought our way up the last uphill stretch - running alongside the sled made me seriously question both my fitness, and the dogs' ability to pull us along for an hour and a half, when I couldn't even get myself up a 2-minute stretch without losing my breath completely.
We were welcomed back to a raging camp-fire with hot apple cider and home-made brownies, and then snuck off to chill with our canine companions until we were dragged away for the home stretch.
This was one of the best experiences we've had out here (or at all for that matter), we can't suggest more strongly an activity to top the Banff bucket list.
P.S. Miss you Alfie!
For your info, there are many different options within Snowy Owl tours. We chose the Powder Hound tour, which lasts around 2 hours, and costs $160 pp. For any other FAQs or details, head to their website here.