Life on Safari - FAQ
1. Do I need prior experience of dog-sledding?
On every safari the guides spend time teaching those new to the sport. The theory is very easy to learn and new mushers are soon on their way, driving their teams across the snow. We do offer longer, more self-sufficient safaris for experienced mushers.
2. How fit do I need to be?
Mushers do not need to be exceptionally fit or strong. The guides will match the number of huskies in your team with your strength and size. A reasonable level of fitness, concentration and a sense of balance are the key attributes needed. If mushers already do some sport or regular activity in their normal life, they will be fine on a husky safari. When there is a steep up-hill section in the trail a good musher runs between the sled-runners or at least pushes with one foot.
3. How many huskies will be in my team?
On safari we usually use four, five or six dogs in a team. This is reviewed to suit individual mushers. In a six-dog team, the dogs are harnessed in three pairs. The two nearest the sled are the wheel-dogs, the middle huskies are the speed-dogs and the front two are the leaders. The wheel-dogs are normally male and provide the power. The speed-dogs provide the stamina and regulate the team's speed, while the leaders are usually female and provide the intelligence.
4. How do I get the huskies to start?
Huskies just want to run and run. You won't need to start them. The only control on the sled is a brake, which you stand on when you want to slow down or stop.
The starts are high-adrenaline moments, for the huskies and the mushers. On average there are five mushers on safari, resulting in about thirty huskies who all know it is time for 'walkies'. The atmosphere can be electric. At rest, the sleds are tied to an immovable object such as a tree. When starting, hold the sled firmly with one hand (the huskies will be pulling strongly) and undo the slip-knot with the other hand. Grab the sled with both hands, run a couple of steps and jump onto the runners. Where possible, tie up the sled in such a way that you can stand on the brake when the slip knot is untied.
5. How do I get the huskies to go the right way?
The safaris are led by an expert guide who knows the route. The other teams of huskies will follow this lead sled, even if the lead sled is out of sight. The safaris use trails where the snow is compacted. It is very difficult for the huskies (or the mushers) to move off the trails, across deep, soft snow.
6. How do I stop?
All the sleds have a brake, which the musher stands on to stop the sled. It is a courtesy to the dogs to warn them verbally before using the brake. Commands do not need to be shouted, as the dogs have very good hearing. It is important to be consistent with your commands. A good musher works calmly, in harmony with the huskies.
7. How do I turn corners?
When cornering, lean into the corner as you would on a bike and move your weight onto the inside runner. On tight, fast corners you should also lower your centre of gravity by crouching. Mushers who lean into corners, put their weight on the inside runner and who crouch low, rarely fall off.
When going around corners, the line of the huskies will be curved as each pair of dogs follows the trail. If the musher brakes hard in the corner, the line will straighten. The wheel-dogs, the sled and the musher will then find themselves cutting across the corner in deep snow, often getting tangled in bushes and trees. Do not brake in the middle of corners unless the trail is blocked.
8. What happens if I fall off?
If you fall off, the huskies will usually carry on up the trail and the musher ahead will catch your team of huskies while you walk, or catch a lift with the musher behind you.
9. How cold does it get on safari?
Although it is generally very cold on safari, mushers don't have to feel it. On all Campfire husky safaris, mushers are provided with a special thermal over-suit and boots. Being well prepared for the climate is very important.
In December, January and February the expected daytime temperature is between minus 5 C and minus 30 C, while at night it often falls to minus 40 C. In March we expect minus 5 C to minus 15 C and by April, spring is in the air with temperatures of zero to minus 5 C.
10. Is it dark in winter in Finland?
In January there is enough light for outdoor activities from about 9 am until 3 pm. The long twilight hours are coloured with hues of blue, creating a fairy-tale atmosphere. When there is a full moon the snow reflects so much light that outdoor activities are possible even at midnight. The days quickly get longer and by March sunrise is at 7 am. In the far north in May, there is almost 24 hours of light and the sun only dips below the horizon for a couple of hours.
11. Will I see the Northern Lights?
Probably yes, on a seven day safari. As dusk deepens to night, the sky can be lit up by mesmerising streamers of coloured light and vibrant blazing arcs as the celestial sphere crackles with electricity. This fascinating phenomenon is the Aurora Borealis, better known as the Northern Lights. It should be noted that sometimes the Northern Lights are just a glow on the horizon. It is usually possible to see the Northern Lights every few nights between December and May, mainly dependent on having no cloud cover. The areas of our husky safaris are free of light pollution, so with no competing light sources, the clarity of the night sky is excellent.
12. What are saunas like?
Saunas are a way of life on all our husky safaris in Finland. It is normal to enjoy a sauna every day before dinner. Saunas are much more warming and cleansing than showers or baths. In the sauna building there are usually showers or tubs of hot and cold water for washing. The Finns regard saunas as very social places, though strictly non-sexual. It is common for a sauna to last half an hour to an hour, with breaks to cool down, have a beer or roll in the snow.
13. Do the huskies really run all day without being forced to?
Yes. This is one of the marvels of a well-trained and well-conditioned team of huskies. A good team can easily cover 80 to 90 km in a day and we plan our safaris with a maximum of 40 to 50 km a day. The willingness of a team of huskies to run along the trails, day after day, is an amazing experience.
14. Do I need to buy specialist clothing for a husky safari?
A Campfire husky dog-sledding holiday is very different from a ski holiday as mushers probably don't need to buy many, if any, special items of clothing. We supply extreme-climate, thermal snowsuits and snow boots. The following list is a generic guide of things you should consider bringing for a seven-day safari. Please adjust the amount you bring depending on the season and the specific safari.
- All mushers are supplied with a thermal over-suit and snow boots.
- Sleeping bags and/or bedding are provided.
- Extra gloves and socks are available if required.
Suggested Clothing List
- Two thick woollen jumpers or fleeces.
- Two thinner woollen jumpers. Take either high-neck jumpers or a scarf to keep your neck warm.
- Two long-sleeved, warm shirts.
- Two pairs thermal underwear.
- Two pairs trackpants/leggings/warm trousers.
- Three pairs of thick woollen socks. Ensure that socks are big enough. Tight socks restrict the blood flow.
- Six pairs of thinner socks. Mushers often wear two pairs of thin socks and one pair of thick socks when mushing.
- Thin under-gloves.
- Warm gloves or mittens.
- Warm hat that also protects your ears.
- Wool scarf or balaclava.
- Warm jacket (arrival & departure days).
- Walking shoes or boots (arrival & departure days).
- Comfortable indoor shoes/trainers (evenings).
- Warm pyjamas.
- Sun block and lip protection.
- Torch and spare batteries. Head-torches are the easiest to use. The cold saps batteries of their strength.
- Toiletries. Water-based cosmetics and creams can freeze. Take oil-based versions.
- A thermos flask is an important item for the Frontier Safaris.
Use a soft-sided holdall, sports bag or backpack as your main luggage. Take a day-bag to be carried on the sled, containing items you use during the day, such as camera, extra socks etc.
- Camera and film/extra memory.
- Extra camera batteries as the cold can sap their strength quickly.
- Extra pair of prescription glasses if worn.
- Ski goggles.
- Swiss army pen-knife.
- Hip flask.
- Heat packs for hands and feet.
- Silk socks.
- Small sewing kit.
- Books, games and other evening entertainment
Being well prepared is important
Loose clothing is much better than tight clothing and numerous thin layers are better than one thick layer. An essential part of keeping warm is keeping dry. Make sure the insides of your boots always remain dry. As soon as you go indoors, remove the inner linings of your boots and hang them up to dry by the stove. Make sure you have enough socks so that you never have to wear damp socks.
Wear materials that 'breathe' and as soon as you feel too hot, remove a layer of clothing. Mushing is an active sport and being active keeps mushers warm. The guides will check mushers' equipment at the start of the safari to ensure its suitability. At any time during the safari, if mushers feel cold or unwell, they should tell the guide immediately.
On most of the dog-sledding safaris, mushers' bags are transported in their dog-sled. Soft luggage is much easier to handle than hard-sided suitcases. We recommend you bring a small day-bag so that you have easy access to the items you use during the day. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.