Products inspired by traditional economies - Dog Sledding

Traditional economies are a source of inspiration for many of the tourism industry's most innovative products. The fur trade in North America certainly was one of the earliest industries where the traditional modes of transportation and journeying practices were integrated from pre-contact origins into a more "Western" economic realm.

In Yukon, the Gold Rush certainly helped foster the preservation of dog sledding knowledge and its economic value for today's tourism operators. Dog sledding as a tourism product takes on many forms in different parts of Alaska and Canada. Some dog sledding product provide more superficial experiences - generally those that might involve an hour-long tour in the basket of guided sleds. Those are geared more to lucrative mass markets. While they may provide a quality service and a lasting impression for guests, the impression might well be rather superficial overall as a result of the short lenght of exposure to the world of dog sledding.

A more rewarding approach to dog sledding might be one comparable to that offered at Sky High Wilderness Ranch just outside of Whitehorse. Here the product is a truly immersive adventure. 5, 8, 11 or 15-day trips are offered to guests from around the world. Each guest is exposed to the world of Huskies and mushers as they themselves learn to mush as part of the product.

Trip participants get to drive their own sleds, under the guidance of experienced mushers who share their passion and provide tips on how they can motivate the dogs to make the team and mushers gel as a wilderness journeying formation.

Here are some of the comments made by former clients that I sent to Sky High in the past:

Helen Weir of California wrote this in April:

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

"The Alaskan Huskies!!!! The dogs are just incredible... athletic, fascinating to watch, and beautiful. Our guide Laird was fantastic as were all the other people at the ranch. This was a 'working' adventure and we did work. We started each day with breakfast, packed a sandwich and thermos, went down to the dog area, scooped poop, readied the dogs/sleds and off we went! Everyday was a new adventure. Back for late afternoon snack, clean up then dinner. The meals were made from scratch - everyone pitched in cooking and with the clean-up. "

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

"Travel light and do the layers. I purchased 'Hot Chillys' #10 thermals top and bottoms and they worked well. A pair of light weight ski pants, fleece top (thin worked for me), wool sweater, scarf, thin fleece gloves and hat. I rented their jacket/coat, sleep bag and mits. I was there in February so needed a pair of boots for going potty outside. Wear house light weight shoes for inside. Knowing how to ski/cross country would be an advantage as trails up and down and switch back. There is no power (they use propane) so no cell phones or TV. "

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

"The benefit is for the dogs. They are treated with respect and are loyal and very friendly and they do get excited :) I have fond memories of all the dogs from my team. The ranch recycles everything. The dog poop is scooped and sent to a company for recycle. Local people do work at the ranch. "

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

"I had a fabulous time. Pushed my limits. I am a back packer so I knew what the lodge was like and what my out put would be... We all worked hard but worked together. Met some very cool people. Whitehorse (was only there on arrival and departure day, is a great town. Small but perfect. The whole area in Winter is very 'white', pristine and kickback. I say, go and play and learn something new. Most people I know are just amazed that I booked this trip on the spur of the moment and went alone. I am glad I did... this has been 'one' of the best holidays I have been on... I like the 'working' vacations. My next trip maybe Cambodia teaching English..."

Lee Unsworth of England sent these comments in 2010:

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

"I would say the trip up to the trappers cabin to stay overnight as this was a pretty challenging run with the dogs but truly awesome once we got up into the mountains. Some of our group did decide to take a few of the downhill stretches trying out various "freestyle” methods of dog sledding... on knees, stomachs and backs...

Also, falling in love with at least couple of my dog team. (Gomer / Riley / Amigo / Leica / Yoda / Boomer) If I could have brought them home I would. And the food - what we were given to eat was fantastic EVERY day. Our guides looked after us both outside and in!"

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

"Expect a bit of hard work if you want to do the higher trails… but you will reap the rewards! If you are new to dog sledding as was I, try to anticipate the hills and jump off and help them a little before they grind to a halt and you will keep them moving rather than leaving it until they have pulled as far as they can...They do appreciate it!

Don't "over-pack". You need thermals etc, but don't think you need to be changing clothes every day. We took far too much and didn't use half of it. The fact is, it is pretty "sweaty" work and you just have to go with the flow. Its not a fashion parade. :) Also don’t take thick clothes...layer.

Don't be afraid... when you see a grizzled giant 7 foot tall mountain man looming toward you through the trees... that's just Ian, he owns the place. :) He's a true gent. "

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

"I would say running dogs through the mountains is very environmentally friendly. "

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

"Fantastic. I have always wanted to try sledding and finally did. Now I just need to convince my other half to go again next winter!"

Alessandra Badino of the UK wrote this in 2009:

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

"A very difficult task to single out a moment of so many amazing memories of my 15 days in the Yukon wilderness! The trip to Bonneville Lakes does stand out as one of the best places I visited during my stay at Sky High Ranch. I trailed to the lakes twice during my stay and I found each time completely different due to the changing weather conditions: the first time we mushed through powdery deep snow, totally immersed in a white landscape; whilst the second time the sun had warmed up the environment making us trail over ice and overflow water in a clear blue sky. The bond that generated with both the people and the dogs at the ranch is also something I carry in my heart as a very sweet memory. "

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

"First of all I would recommend considering carefully the time at which you travel: if you go early in the year (Jan, Feb) you are in for experiencing true arctic weather, with lots of snow but also pretty fiercely cold temperatures at times that may shorten your trips out with the dogs (and your trips to the outhouse pretty challenging!); if you go later in the year (March, April), conditions will be milder and you will enjoy daylight for longer, but you may find some trails are not accessible because of the lack of snow. Secondly, I would strongly recommend booking your flight legs with the same airline, which would help in case of flight delays or cancellations. Finally, as there are generally many different combinations of trips on offer, make sure that you are clear about the trip itinerary that you have booked."

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

"I felt that all the people working at the ranch had a very high consideration for the impact their activity has on the environment. All the rubbish was packed and brought back to the main lodge to be dutifully disposed of or recycled where possible. All supplies during the trips in the wilderness were carried with our sleds, so skidoos/truck use was reduced to a bare minimum. Tourism is an important element in the local economy, especially during the cold winter months and all tour guides and people employed at the ranch are from the local area."

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

"A truly amazing experience: I have been back for three weeks now, but I still dream about it! All the guides, and especially our guide Keri, have made us feel extremely welcome and in experienced hands for the whole duration of the trip, trying in all possible ways to attend to our needs."

John Baker of the UK wrote this in 2008:

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

"Sledding down to 'Mud lake', about 40 miles south of the mian lodge after w'd spent the night in the wall tents (they are about half way between each!) and then having lunch! And this wasn't just a sanwich affair either; we got a decent fire going and our guide kari got some sausages on the fire goingm, plus she brought the mustard too!

Apart from lunch the views that day were absolutely amazing becuase of some lucky weather; and the route gave a few challenges too so made the sledding worth every mile."

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

If you go early feb or before then take lots of middle layers; jumpers etc. It went down to -47 at night and can be quite chilly on any outhouse visits too; but even more so theres a risk of frost bite so everything has to be covered. This is where gimp masks and neck protectors etc come in; ski goggles are a good idea even though they will mist up.
As a note; if it's too cold then the dogs can only run for a few hours or they literally freeze so you may experience some shorter days at these temps but even so just a few hours with these amazing dogs was enough; and a nice hot cup of tea was needed either way!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

"All my flights went through major airports so there were no special flights and all were pretty much full.

Yukon is strangely not that popular around this time apart from the Quest dog sled race so any extra tourism does give a nice boost to the locals who are all more than happy to help and chat to you about what you're doing, where you're from and about local stuff going on.

Dog sledding itself is very good; no snow mobiles are sent ahead or behind the dogs. The guides cut trail (go over powder covered trails) if needed and do most of the time; the snow mobiles are only used if needed and generally not at all. All rubbish is collected and returned to Whitehorse and any rubbish at camps etc is collected and brought back. Supplies are brought up every few days but these generally coincide with guests arriving and leaving so carbon emissions are kept to as few trips as possible. All the guides and staff make sure the focus is on the environment and the dogs which is happily accepted by the guests."

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

"Simply amazing. There's is no question that I'll be going again to Canada if not Whitehorse and the same ranch I went dog sledding. Plus it's even planted the seed of me thinking about moving there; so must have been a good trip!

The local people in Canada and even in Vancouver were all really friendly, the guidesmore so and had some fabulous food and receipes there, nothing to miss home about thats for sure!

There was one hiccup which taints the journey; my Air Canada flight to Vancouver was cancelled and I eventually had to fork out for a new plane ticket to London as it made me miss my connections that would get me back to the UK. However, the Air Canada staff at Whitehorse did all they could and got me on the next available flight (even though it was operated by Air North) so it wasn't through lack of effort just bad luck. If anything I'd say avoid KLM/Horizon Air/NWA as their check-in staff just didn't seem to care I was stuck in their airport!

However, thats nothing to put me off Canada or going back for another dog sledding adventure!"

Marion Moves to Take Over Williamson County Pavilion

The Marion City Council took action tonight cleaning up the financial mess known as the Williamson County Pavilion, a mess caused at its creation when excess bed tax funds originally intended for the operation of the building, were unexpectedly required to be set aside.

That move crippled the Williamson County Events Commission's ability to adequately staff and operate the convention facility, requiring the separate Williamson County Tourism Bureau to subsidize the operations at a detriment to its own tourism promotion efforts.

Tonight the council passed an intergovernmental agreement with the Events Commission, voted to take over the facility, levy its own city 3 percent bed tax to pre-empt the existing county tax, pay off the old financing bonds, and issue new general revenue bonds in their place

The other part of the mess was the issue of property taxes on the property. Although a non-profit corporation, the Events Commission found out to their surprise that they were not tax-exempt when it came to property taxes. In a move suggested, or at least supported, by the local bank backing the bonds, the Events Commission sold its interest in the land back to the city (who originally donated it in the first place). Afterwards the city immediately leased the building back to the commission to operate. Since then the property transfer has been the subject of a lawsuit brought by the Marion School District in an effort to collect the taxes they feel should have been paid.

The council approved a lease of office space to the Williamson County Tourism Bureau which has been housed in the facility since it opened in 2005. The original proposal called for a five year lease of $500 a month. In recent negotiation the bureau asked that they be allowed to get out of the lease after one year with 30 days notice. The city's point man on the issue, local attorney Ron Osman, countered that both sides to the lease should be able to cancel it after one year. The bureau agreed and wanted 90 days notice, and the council tonight agreed.

Though there was some discussion at the meeting that they couldn't see why the bureau might want to leave. Trust me, it's obvious to anyone who has ever tried direct tourists to the building behind the Illinois Center Mall.

Between the proposed tourism development with the STAR Bonds district on the east side of the interstate and the Chamber of Commerce's earlier plans (now presumably on hold due to the STAR Bonds proposal) for a new visitors center on Main Street in front of the state regional office building, the bureau is smart to keep their options open.

I hope to know more tomorrow, but it's clear to me that tonight's move is a major step forward both for the Pavilion's operations and the potential of improvement for the tourism bureau as well.
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