Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/9/2012 (1344 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Halfway through our mushing instructions, I realized I hadn't been paying attention. The din of 150 barking, howling, leaping sled dogs had overwhelmed my senses.
I apologized to Adam, our guide at Sky High Wilderness Ranch. He patiently repeated a few important rules: Hang on -- whatever you do, don't let go of the sled; keep your foot on the brake, especially when going downhill (as you don't want to run over the dogs); when going uphill, step off the sled and trot behind, still hanging on of course. If you run into trouble, step on the brakes with both feet to stop the dogs, then tip the sled over and plant the snow hook (emergency brake) so the dogs don't run off. I'll come back and help you.
And when you're ready to go, tap the top of your head. Simple enough, I thought.
Nervously tapping the top of my head, I eased off the brake a bit and -- whoa, these dogs love to run -- I lurched off after the pack.
There were three of us on this sunny fall afternoon, each with a team of four dogs. Once we got away from the cacophony of the compound, the world became a peaceful snowy playground.
Located 30 minutes from Whitehorse in a valley on the shores of Fish Lake, the ranch is surrounded by pristine wilderness. Wildlife is abundant here, as are scenic views of mountains, streams, rivers and lakes.
The Last Trapper was filmed in the Fish Lake area and used the ranch's Coal Lake cabin for a set in the movie. (see the movie trailer on YouTube)
More than 80 per cent of the Yukon is wilderness. With a population of only 32,335 inhabitants in a land mass approximately the size of California, Tourism Yukon's description of 'unspoiled, uncluttered and uncrowded' is fitting.
Much of the Yukon's most spectacular wilderness is protected by a network of national and territorial parks. It's the largest eco-region in the world.
Home to 25 per cent of Canada's grizzly bears, the world's largest non-polar ice caps and the greatest mass of granite on Earth, the sheer magnitude of the Yukon's natural attractions leaves a haunting impression on visitors.
Mushing along on a wide-open trail, dressed in full arctic regalia -- snow pants, snow boots, gloves, scarf and a hefty parka (borrowed from the lodge and designed for 30 below) -- I was overdressed for the balmy zero degrees of the day.
I also didn't realize what a workout dog mushing is, especially in the first 15 minutes before I unclenched a little and got into the rhythm of the run. Before long I was feeling quite at home, peeling off my scarf and gloves and tossing them into the sled.
The end of October in Whitehorse is not prime time for tourists. The long hot days of summer have passed, the last of the glorious coloured leaves have dropped, the temperatures are hovering around zero and the snow has only just begun to fall. It's kind of a non-season in a region renowned for extremes. We were lucky to have enough snow for our run. We spent an hour or so on the trails and then headed back to the rustic lodge for a cup of tea and a snack.
There is no electricity here. There is propane for cooking, a wood stove for heat and a pair of outhouses 'round the back.
You can stay in one of the comfy lodge rooms for $50 a night or choose from a selection of cabins (starting at $50). It's a charming place. And I never once felt the need to check my iPhone for messages.
After all the fresh air and exertion I was ready for a nap. We had also stayed up half the night searching the sky for aurora borealis from our fabulous digs at Inn on the Lake; an inviting log lodge about half an hour from town. We were the only guests that evening -- one of the bonuses of visiting in the off-season.
We had spent the day at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve and Takhini Hot Springs and arrived just in time for a four-course gourmet dinner. Then we were left alone to entertain ourselves.
The lodge is stocked with games, music, books, a pool table and a gym. There is also an outdoor sauna and hot tub.
Plenty to keep you busy when the northern lights aren't co-operating.
We tried to stay up all night, hoping to catch a glimpse but I only lasted until 2 a.m. Our host told us the next morning the best time is between 3 and 4 a.m. I'm not sure if he was joking. I'm used to the sun waking me up in the morning but I slept until 9 and it was still dark. In November, the average number of daylight hours is 8.5 and next month it drops to 5.5. Winter temperatures can range from above freezing to -40.
But unlike most of us southerners, who whine about winter weather, people in the Yukon embrace the season. Not only do Yukoners survive the long winters, they thrive during this time by creating and participating in some of the most outrageous events and festivals in North America, such as chainsaw chucking contests, Sourtoe Cocktails (complete with a human toe), snowshoe-wearing can-can dancers and a hairy leg contest for women.
Like most northern destinations, the Yukon also offers activities such as dog mushing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross-country and downhill skiing and snowshoeing.
But only in the Yukon can you enjoy these activities while exploring the trails and rivers to historic sites made famous by stampeding gold rushers.
-- Postmedia News
IF YOU GO
WHAT TO DO: Sky High Wilderness Ranch offers a large variety of dogsled and horseback adventures, as well as cabin and lodge stay packages. Winter mushing tour rates are $97 an hour; $190 for a half day (4 hours) or $300 for a full day (6 hours), lunch included. In summer the focus is on horses. The ranch has 24 horses and can arrange wilderness rides of up to 10 days. Visit www.skyhighwilderness.com
Northern Tales Travel Services offers a range of summer and winter tours including the five-hour Yukon Wildlife Preserve and Takhini Hot Springs tour. Visit www.auroraborealisyukon.com
WHERE TO STAY: Westmark Whitehorse, centrally located in downtown Whitehorse and open year-round. Info: www.westmarkhotels.com
Inn at the Lake is featured on Martha Stewart Living and listed by National Geographic Traveller in it's Top 150 places to stay for 2009. The lodge is one of the few places in North America where you can view the aurora borealis right from your suite. Winter adventure packages include: 3 nights in a Classic Suite; breakfast, lunch and a four-course gourmet dinner daily; complementary tea, coffee, hot chocolate; airport shuttles; snowmobiling; ice fishing; snowshoeing; tobogganing and winter clothing package. Available December to April for $849/person based on double occupancy. www.innonthelake.ca
GETTING THERE: Air North offers daily non-stop service between Vancouver and Whitehorse year-round. From now until May 22, 2012 Air North is offering round-trip airfare and two nights accommodation for $579 including fees and taxes. Visit www.flyairnorth.com