When I visited Iceland for the first time this winter there were several things very high on my to-do list: go on a northern lights tour, head out whale watching and try my hand at husky dog sledding.
Dog sledding in Iceland – sit or stand?
As regular readers will know I’m a huge animal lover. Last year I spent an afternoon with a bunch of gorgeous Siberian huskies in a very surreal setting when I visited the Bangkok Husky Café. This time round I was really keen to have some quality time with them in a much more natural habitat – the snow! I’d wanted to go dog sledding in Iceland for many, many years, so as soon as my trip to Akureyri was booked I started researching husky dog sledding tours in Northern Iceland.
I only found a few companies in or near Akureyri town offering husky rides as many are based further afield – around an hour away at Lake Mývatn. After reading some reviews I decided contact Inspiration Iceland, as they offer guests a more authentic husky sledging experience. When you go on one of their tours you don’t just sit in a sleigh and go for a ride, you become a husky musher yourself!
I have to admit I was a little nervous by the idea, particular as I suffer from post-thrombotic syndrome, which affects the strength in my legs and how long I can stand. However, I spoke to the team beforehand to explain my concerns and they were quick to calm my nerves and explain there shouldn’t be any issues as you’re only on the sledge for short periods at a time, plus if I got sore I could stop at any point.
Husky sledging in Akureyri, North Iceland
When the day came round I was so excited. We made our way to the office, where we met our dog whisperers for the day, Andreas and his assistant Andriana, but they also come into Akureyri and pick up guests from their hotels.
There’s no one set location that Andreas takes the dogs to for your sledding experience, it all depends on where’s best on the day and factors for his decision include the weather and where the dogs have been to recently to ensure they have a good variety when they run.
Ours was a morning session and after picking up the four other guests, Andreas drove us – and the dogs – roughly 15 mins out of town, south from the edge of the fjord. Our dog sledding trail that day was a 4km long snow covered pathway alongside a frozen river, with the mountains rising out of the ground either side of us. The view was absolutely jaw dropping, but it’s even more amazing when you’re rushing along on a sledge pulled by huskies.
Once we’d parked up, Andreas went off to start getting the dogs out (they were towed behind the off-roader in a sort of ‘kennel on wheels’) while Adriana ran us through some training. Safety was taken very seriously throughout the experience, which I thought was great – with both the safety of ourselves and the dogs considered paramount at all times.
We were shown how to manage our dogs, with Adriana explaining that you’re the boss and they need to know that. We were told to use our voice forcefully and assertively using words like go, stop and wait. I did that most of the time, but I have to admit that when I got lost in the moment I started telling them how much I loved their fluffy feet in my cutsie animal voice – oops!
We were also shown how to control our sledge – which essentially involves you holding onto the handle at the top of the sleigh while balancing your feet on two wooden posts – there’s no large flat base to stand on. I’ll be honest, it took many of us a while to get our heads around how to stand correctly, but after a while we got comfortable with what their hand gestures meant, how to start the dogs moving, how to slow down the sledge (and dogs) using the flip-down plastic break and how to bring the sledge to a secure stop using a metal break which you firmly push into the snow.
Procedures memorised, we were ready to go, as were the dogs – when we headed back to Andreas, who we could tell were eager to race by their jumping, barking and rolling in the snow. Their excitement was truly palpable, as these video clips I took will show you!
We all helped Andreas and Adriana get the dogs ready and attached to the sleigh – each had four huskies pulling it along. Our group was the max size of six people, so two of us would go sledding at a time, while the others watched on from the comfort of the off-roader. Andreas would drive the 4X4 ahead of the sledges, with Adriana leaning out of the car directing the mushers who followed behind.
The two sledges always needed to be kept a certain distance apart as the dogs can get competitive and feisty when in ‘sledding’ mode, so she’d wave when the first of us could set off and then wave again when the second musher could get going.
I’ll be honest we all found the experience a little daunting at first, and almost all of us fell off at least once when we began to mush our dogs, but once we found our feet the experience was truly amazing.
Time to mush
Andreas picks the two most confident/competent people to go first – usually those with outdoor sports experience. This is because the dogs have the most energy at this point which means the ride can be a bit faster and the dogs a little more boisterous. Two girls in our group were horse riders so they went first. Sadly one had a nasty fall at the start, but I’m glad to say at the end of the session she got back on the sleigh and tried again with much better luck, meaning she went home with happy memories.
If at first you don’t succeed…
I was in the second group to go out. Like anyone trying something for the first time it can be tough. I started off ok but when I moved from the soft snow onto a particularly solid icy part of the trail things got a bit bumpy and I lost my balance and fell. Actually it was a bit of a relief to fall, as it showed me that wasn’t so bad and I stopped worrying about it. I fell again when the dogs whizzed around a bend, but I just got back up and on the sledge.
Once I got back onto a smoother, straight part of the track I found my footing and with it my confidence. Suddenly I was then free to be in the moment, urging the dogs on and keeping them focused on running – as much as possible that is, as they do like to do their own thing. It was amazing though – I felt the icy wind rushing by my face, listened to the dogs’ feet hitting the snow and took in the amazing view of snowy fields and mountains while the winter sun beamed down on me. I was so glad I’d found the courage to give this a go!
Those memories will stay with me forever, but what I loved is that the guys stop from time to time and run out to take your photo mid sledge ride, which they send over to you via email the following day.
It’s great to have some action shots of the experience to look back on, but once you’re all sledged out you also get some time to cosy up with the dogs and take a few photos of your own while the guys pack up. These snow dogs love a good cuddle and are also keen on belly rubs and kisses, so animal lovers like myself will be in their element.
Andreas owns all the Siberian huskies and you can see the love there – you’ll always find him giving them hugs or kisses and talking to them. He has 15 in total and most live out in his grounds as a pack, the only exceptions are the most elderly two who now spend their retirement in the house with Andreas and his family.
During our trip he would tell us a little about each of them – as we quickly saw, each had their own character. He explained that the alpha had only recently become the new pack leader and that as a young female was still finding her feet at the boss dog. One’s a big kisser, another loves to roll around in the snow, but my favourite husky had to be Nina.
She was always sitting around looked like she really didn’t give a f**k, while the other dogs would be bouncing around and barking. It all made sense when Andreas told me that she was one of the older dogs, at 10, so she has a very been there, seen that attitude to life. Loved her.
Dog sledding with Inspiration Iceland – my review
Andreas was a really fun, happy man to spend time with and you could see he was keen to ensure everyone went away with great memories from their time as a husky musher.
The experience lasts around three hours in total, but of that time you probably spend around 15 mins actively sledging with the huskies. At approximately £180 per person, it’s one of the more expensive things to do in Iceland, but even so I would say that it was one of the standout experiences for me.
A true Icelandic adventure
I had an absolutely blast and loved the fact that I was actively involved in the experience rather than just sitting as a passenger. It was just me and the dogs, and it will be an experience I’ll never forget. If I head back to the region (and I really hope to!) I’d definitely come back and have another go at dog mushing now I’ve learnt the basics.
I highly recommend this trip, but I have to add this isn’t the only husky sledging experience Inspiration Iceland has to offer. The more hardcore can go out on a three-day husky dog sledding adventure, and for those that love animals but aren’t yet feeling brave enough to get on a sledge you can also go along for a photo and cuddling session (and they are very cuddly). Plus it’s not just a winter activity – in the summer, when the snow disappears, you can try out husky dog scootering or karting instead!
Tips for dog sledging in North Iceland
- For a more memorable and authentic experience I recommend choosing a sledging tour where you get to control the sledge and sled dogs.
- Get in touch in advance to check availability – group sizes are usually small and therefore book up quickly.
- When standing on the sleigh use your hands to hold tight and keep your legs loose
- At all times you need to show the dogs you’re in charge by using your voice strongly. If you do that, they will listen to you and make controlling the sledge a little easier.
- The Icelandic countryside is amazingly beautiful, but when you’re in charge of the sledge make sure to concentrate on the dogs and the path ahead!
So what do you think, are you ready to unleash your inner dog musher and go on an authentic husky dog sledding experience?
Full disclosure: I received a discounted media rate for my husky sledging experience with Inspiration Iceland. However, as always, all views are my own.