To gain experience as a guide, during the IWG training you are required to work with two companies, totalling 5 – 6 weeks. You offer your services for free in return for the experience.
This was my first practical training position, my second was as an assistant ski guide. During the first 3 weeks of December 2014 I worked as an assistant dog sled guide at Saija lodge, a family run company offering husky tours in central Finland. Located just below the arctic circle, where the sun coyly rises at 10.10am, floating just above the horizon before sedately slipping away again several hours later, at 1.30pm. A sun filled day compared to many of my course mates who were further north, where the sun didn’t rise at all.
I was here to gain work experience, offering my services for free and in return being provided with food and accommodation, but more importantly, the opportunity to gain practical knowledge, learn from other guides and practice the skills learnt in college.
It was a hands on 3 weeks, full of lovely dog and snow filled memories. There was a lot of work in the kennels – cleaning, feeding and helping to prepare the 150 dogs for tours. Yes, as you can imagine that is a hell of a lot of dog poo to clean! And by the end I felt like I’d earned my colours as a Jedi master of the poop scooping universe, oh, and I hope my guiding skills improved a bit too! Other than the feeding and cleaning I also assisted with training the dogs, several day husky tours, an over night husky tour, 2 snowmobile day trips, cross-country skiing trips, snow shoeing and ice fishing.
These trips ranged between 5km ski trips to around 60km for the 2 day dog sled tours. The dog sled tours were the main reason for my trip here and for the customers too. Each person had their own sled with their own team of dogs assigned to them. The feelings of excitement from the guests were palpable, and it was a pleasure to see how much fun the dogs and customers had with each other. The 2 day husky tours were especially good as each customer got to bond strongly with their team of dogs. The trips took us up and over the gentle snow-covered undulations of the land, through thick old growth bearded forests, over barren tree enclosed bogs and frozen lakes. At times whilst sledding through the woods in the snow it felt like we were miniature characters on top of a beautifully ornate christmas cake being sprinkled with icing sugar.
Another good thing about working with so many dogs was getting to know all their quirky personally traits making them all so unique. Some so boisterous and excitable it was almost impossible to get into the cage with them without them jumping up and trying to escape, others so painfully shy they would just cower in the corner, some so sweet and affectionate and others just plain bonkers. But what put a smile on my face every morning was seeing how excited the dogs were to go running with the guests. They loved it. It was as if they had never been out before, as if this could be their last day on earth. As soon as they caught a glimpse of the harnesses, a few barks and howls quickly escalated into an erupting crescendo of all out barking warfare. Even the shy dogs would be screaming with excitement, eager to get onto the sledge to pull, and it was often the case that many of the shy dogs were the best leaders.
My time at Saija was a real experience where I had a lot of fun and learnt about many aspects of husky sledding and guiding. I made some good friends with the dogs and the staff were alright too! If you haven’t already I highly recommend getting out your winter gear and treating yourself to a dog sledding holiday.
Many of the photos used on this post were taken by one of the guests at Saija, who kindly let me use them on my blog. All the pictures of his will take you directly to his website if you click on them (apart from the first picture which is also his). If you want to reuse any of his pics please get in touch with him directly through his Flikr, or email me and I’ll pass it on. https://www.flickr.com/photos/mtrienke/