Keen to try out regional winter activities, I found a company, Discover Latvia, that organizes dog sledding tours, and gave them a ring after a particularly snowy week in January. What better place than northern Europe to give this sport a try? And I was in luck – they had a group going out! I eagerly waited for the day to arrive and, despite some warmer temps and rain in Riga, was assured that there would be plenty of snow where we were going.
A friendly tour operator by the name of Rihards picked us up at a nearby hotel along with two Irish girls vacationing in Riga. During the hour and a half drive, Rihards regaled us with funny stories and fascinating facts about Latvia, keeping us thoroughly entertained. We drove deep into the countryside, passing frozen rivers on which men were ice fishing and villages so small they don’t show up on most maps. When we eventually pulled up to the camp, the daylight was already starting to fade.
Rihards explained what would happen on the ride, demonstrating how to drive the sled and keep command of the dogs. I opted to sit in the sled, as “baggage,” with the hopes of taking photos and video along the way. I would soon realize how misguided this idea was. The young dogs, which appeared to be Husky mixes, were VERY excited, barking fervently and jumping straight up into the air. They wanted to RUN!
Once I was situated in the sled, I realized that it was about a foot too long for my legs, leaving me with nothing to brace my feet against. But before I had a chance to ask someone at the camp about it, our dogs were released and we hurtled down the icy path at break-neck speed! I hooked my heels on the rim of the sled and held on for dear life.
The first part of the course snaked through the woods and included a few nail-biting 45-degree turns which our dogs handled with aplomb. We also deftly crossed a steep and rocky creek bed before coming to a wide open field. We left the camp in second place, but soon overtook another team which had veered off course and were being helped by the staff. Amazingly, we managed to stay upright for the entire five kilometers!
Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate as well as the dogs, sleeting for the duration of the ride. By the time we crossed the finish line, I was absolutely soaked and had make-up running down my face. Fortunately it was almost dark by that point so no one could see. After waiting for the other teams to return, we warmed up by the campfire and drank cups of hot wine. Rihards also brought along three varieties of tasty pirags: cabbage, mushroom and black currant. Then it was time for a quiet ride back to Riga.
To give you a little taste of what the experience was like, here’s a video from Discover Latvia. The dogs really do get that excited!
We departed Riga at 2:30 pm and returned around 7 pm. Rihards was very quick to answer all of my emails, and sent photos and video of my ride a few days later. Discover Latvia charges between 60-90 euros per person for the dog-sledding tour depending on the number of participants. The price is a bit steep, but it’s definitely a unique experience!
Have you been dog sledding? If not, is it something you’d like to try?