The snow crystals glisten in the light of the morning sun. 32 quick paws wait impatiently for their turn on this clear winter day. The harness is on, the team is ready and off they go! Six dogs throw themselves into the leashes and pull the sledge through the white landscape of the Vorarlberg. Their will to run can hardly be tamed - after a short warm-up phase they dash through the snow at 40 kilometres per hour.
Such a sledge ride through the silent nature is a unique experience. The great thing about it is that anyone can become a dog sled driver themselves! Husky workshops are offered in many regions of Austria (e.g. Vorarlberg) and Switzerland (e.g. Chur, Appenzell). Depending on the provider, interested people can spend between one day and one week at the dog camp. During this time, they learn what it means to be a musher, a dog sled driver. "Anyone who doesn't have a dog hair allergy can take part," says Anton Kuttner, who runs a workshop in Vorarlberg and is known as "Husky Toni". He adapts the programme to the fitness level of the participants.
The motto of the workshops is "learning by doing". However, there is a lot of theory involved. Before the participants get to know their four-legged team members personally, they learn the most important things about huskies, their attitude, sled dog sport and equipment. And then it's time for a sniff and a cuddle. The participants get to know the huskies, feed them, walk with them on snowshoes through the deep snow. They learn the important commands and finally steer a dog sled with their newly acquired knowledge. Along the way, the aspiring mushers also train their team spirit. They have to help each other, for example when harnessing and unharnessing the dogs. Without team building, nothing works on the sledge - and that also applies to the relationship with the animals. Husky Toni: "The dogs show very honestly and clearly when something is not right in the group, when people are not working together harmoniously. They are then irritated and clearly less motivated."
If that wasn't enough cool team spirit for you, you can learn to build an igloo after the sledding adventure. Cohesion is also important in the construction of the dome-shaped house made of snow blocks - for the builders and for the building blocks.
Flying snow crystals, bone-chilling cold, blue skies, plus the steaming breath of the animals - husky tours in the snow are fun. But dog sledding is not a pure winter sport. Even when the flakes have melted and nature puts on her green spring dress, the dogs retain their irrepressible urge to run and are ready for outings. "I have been offering workshops with my dogs for eight years. Since then, a large part of it has shifted to the summer," says Anton Kuttner, who leads husky workshops in Vorarlberg and is known as Husky Toni. Instead of walking through deep snow, man and animal then hike across lush mountain meadows, through forests and high valleys. Or ride so-called dogscooters on selected routes along the Rätikon mountain range in Vorarlberg (Austria).
Before the first excursion, the most important basic skills are taught in the camp after getting to know the dogs: Introduction to the world of sled dogs, instruction in the most important commands, learning the steering and cornering technique, preparing and harnessing the animals. Then the most exciting part begins: two huskies are harnessed in front of the dogscooter. This is a large pedal scooter that is used for pulling dogs. The ten to twelve kilometre ride begins - past mountain meadows with the towering Alps in the background. The workshop guests are enthusiastic and enjoy the ride. "The fact that huskies are so trusting and yet extremely powerful always fascinates the participants", says husky Toni. He smiles: "Those who get to know the animals in winter also like to come back in summer. Huskies are in season all year round."