Husky-sledding in Quebec
Husky-sledding is an exhilarating way to discover the wilds of Quebec, says Adrian Mourby. And the kids can have a go too
Sunday 26 March 2006
It's minus 15 today but the huskies are doing fine. They spend all summer at high altitude in the mountains where Jean-François has built a sub-zero holiday camp for them. Today I woke up to find ice in my beard, but this is just another working day for them.
There are many ways to enjoy winter in Quebec but we wanted something a bit closer to nature. Snowmobiling sounded too noisy and smelly so we opted for dog-sledding, not that that isn't noisy and smelly too. Huskies are total obsessives. The two things they love, more than anything in the world, are running about in the snow and defecating. The din that went up while Jean-François was selecting the dogs to make up our teams was deafening, something like the entire cast of EastEnders yelling at each other.
Worse, the first thing huskies do, once in harness, is to relieve themselves in the snow. This is partly to prepare for the exertions to come, so Jean-François told us, but also to test whether the new musher is really in charge. "If you don't show him who is boss you'll have trouble."
It fell to me to be the alpha male in our two-man team working with lead dog Zak. "Make sure you call him by name," I was told. "Shout 'Zak allez!' when you want to go faster and 'Zak doux !' when you want to slow down."
"Why 'dooo'?" asked my 15-year-old son, wondering if it had something to do with what his dogs were expelling into the snow.
"Doucement! You want him to run more gently!" explained Jean-François.
Further up our convoy of sleds, a fight had broken out between two dogs on my wife's team. "Show them who's top bitch!" I suggested but Kate looked appalled as Zorro and Kristale drew blood. Jean-François was on the case, unharnessing Kristale.
"She needs to know that I am top dog," said Jean-François, rubbing her face in the snowbank until order was restored.
Suddenly, we were off. Four sleds, 32 dogs and a lot of people shouting Allez Zak! Allez Zorro! Allez Baba! At speed we plunged into the dim snowy woods with Jean-François' team in the lead. The trails were narrow but practical - no one was decapitated by an overhead branch - although I soon learned that unless you leaned into the turn, like a motorcyclist, there was a danger of the driver being thrown off on corners. Down we shot, crossing a small brook and up the other side. Following Jean-François' instructions, I jumped off at the bottom and ran behind the sled to make it easier for Zak and his team.
At the top Jean-François and Kate were waiting for us, so I jumped on the brake. As soon as Zak and co got the hint of a hiatus they broke rank in order to eat snow and indulge a husky's second favourite activity. I took this as a good opportunity to swap places with John, who had been agitating to do some mushing of his own. As soon as I snuggled down on the bucket seat, however, I realised that what the passenger sees most of is a lot of doggie bottoms. Given that the husky in front of me, had serious digestive issues, I began to think I'd made a mistake.
"Allez, allez, hup, hup!" shouted Jean-François. We tore across meadows, along rivers and in and out of forests with Mont Sainte-Anne all the time looming on the horizon, the afternoon sun gradually turning it pink. There's no doubt that sledding shows you the countryside at a pace you can enjoy. People have travelled like this for centuries - and hardly anyone falls out.
John and Livvie both enjoyed themselves shouting to the dogs, jumping on the brake whenever we went downhill and jumping off when we were struggling up. "God, you're fat, Dad!" gasped John as the dogs strained up an incline.
"I can take over any time you like!" I shouted back - just the right kind of threat. Children like being able to do things on holiday, and husky-sledding doesn't involve hours of instruction or letting the adults have all the fun. Which is how I come to be here now, bowling along in the dusk, eight dogs in front of me and one son behind doing all the work. I feel at one with dog and nature.
The author travelled to Quebec as a guest of Crystal Ski (0870-160 6040; crystalski.co.uk). It offers packages from £468 per person, based on two sharing, with return flights, transfers and seven nights' room-only accommodation at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City
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