Ports of Call: Dogsledding in Juneau, AK

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A dogsledding outing is a splurge worth taking, whether you do it because you love dogs or you simply want to see Alaska up close.

Gliding across the snow pulled by a pack of huskies is magical.

Even during summer in Alaska we enjoyed dogsledding. No snow? No worries. We boarded a helicopter in Juneau for a flight to a glacier. Our chopper carried us over lush, green rain forests which soon gave way to the frozen stretches of the Mendenhall glacier. The pilot set us down in a bowl, a vast plateau, 3,400 feet high, encircled by snow-covered mountains ringed by low hung clouds.

At first the great white sweep of earth and sky, like nothing we had ever experienced, disoriented us, making the slopes many miles away seem within an easy hike. Walking on the glacier, as my son said, was “awesome.” Beneath our boots the snow piled more than 30 feet high and under that the eons-old ice forged a frozen river 1,500 feet thick.

In the distance the sled dogs barked. Their jubilation delighted us. Before our mushing expedition, we learned such basic commands as “gee” for turn right, “haw” for left, and “hike” for go. Dog lovers, we couldn’t resist petting the pack as we attempted to memorize the names of our huskie-shepherd-malamute mixed breed team. A red splotch on lead dog Roach’s back made it easy to spot him. Next came Koala, Fork and Electra, Turbo and Arthur, and the strong wheel dogs, Topher and Hound. We felt like Santa with a new and eager team.

The dogs howled excitedly as we helped harness them. Opting to stand with the musher, we held tight to the sled’s frame. Upon the musher’s command, the team took off, falling effortlessly into formation. Once the pack started running, the only sounds were the thin, steady hum of the wind and the soft padding of the dogs’ paws. After the twenty minute loop, we wanted more, vowing to come back to Alaska in winter for some day-long dog sledding.

The dogsledding option was a memorable package: helicopter tour, glacier walk, and sled ride. While the entire outing took about three hours, the actual dogsledding part felt too short, possibly because we enjoyed it the most. Still, at prices nearing $500, we came away feeling exhilarated and slightly foolish for spending so much on a short time in a sled. This was our splurge and like all splurges we wanted this one to last longer. Nonetheless, this adventure, along with watching calving glaciers up close, proved to be our favorite Alaska outings.