Many destinations and outfitters provide winter adventures, snow tours and activities, and it took me a good amount of research before we chose Arctic Chalet in Inuvik, Northwestern Territories, Canada.
We were looking for a winter destination that would offer dog mushing and Northern Lights viewing. Our main goal was to mush or our dog team. Many companies will have you sit and led the sled for you. Either because they can fit four or five people per sled and make it a very profitable business. Or because the terrain is rough and requires high mushing skills like in Greenland. Others care little about their dogs and abuse their furry employees.
Arctic Chalet was one of the few outfitters that would allow the visitors to drive – or mush as it is called – their own dog sled teams. They actually train you for a couple of hours so that you can have your own hands-on experience right from your first day.
Dog mushing options include a 2-day dog mushing overnight tundra camping and another overnight trip to a remote cabin. Other Arctic winter adventures are snowmobiling, driving over an ice road, visiting a local festival and watching a reindeer migration.
Founded by Judi and Olav Falsnes, the Arctic Chalet is at the same time an outdoor adventure outfitter, a husky kennel, and a lodging with several beautifully crafted and decorated wooden chalets.
Located above the Arctic Circle, the small town of Inuvik is less known than more popular Yellowknife or Whitehorse in Canada, Anchorage or Fairbanks in Alaska. In our opinion, Inuvik is a little gem that deserves to be discovered.
White Huskies Kennel
The kennel has about 40 white huskies, including new puppies every year. Staff volunteers and the dog musher master watch over and take care of the dogs. This includes feeding them, cleaning the stalls, and getting the sled and the dogs ready.
We were highly impressed with the dogs and pleased with our choice of Arctic Chalet. The dogs were in great shape, well fed and with a clean white fur coat. One surprise was how friendly the dogs were, greeting us and keen on our attention. Their eagerness to pull was also clear as they kept barking, looking for attention and be attached to the sled.
Guests and customers are welcome to help after the initial training and under the staff’s supervision. Bruno and I appreciated being able to do so. We took the dogs on and off their lines and removed their jacket, then gave a hand during the feed frenzy, and cleaned the stalls.
Due to the freezing temperatures, no water is available but warm water is served with the dry food when the dogs are fed. Individual portions are given to meet each dog’s needs based on their diet and physical characteristics. Part of the dogs’ training is to have them sit a few seconds before being given their food so they don’t jump on their caregivers. These dogs are well trained and it shows as they sit – though not patiently. We extended our time and massaged their back and legs a little, getting our fair share of cuddles and hugs at the same time.
Cozy Wooden Cabins
We stayed in some of the original wooden cabins built in Inuvik in 1960s. In traditional chalet style, these were all wood but warm and nicely decorated. Our room had two double beds, table and chairs and a mini-kitchenette with microwave, a small fridge and a sink, completed with a couple of dining sets, coffee cups etc.
A basic breakfast of oatmeal, tea and coffee are available. We complemented by a visit to the local store for fresh fruits, bread, milk and orange juice. The hot water was a delight after a day in the great outdoors.
Warm Arctic Outdoor Gear and Clothing
Our warmest clothes were suited for backpacking in the California Sierra Nevada but not enough for the potential -30 degrees Fahrenheit we were going to face during our Arctic winter adventures. Judi had warm Arctic clothing ready for us. The pack included a thick insulated snow pant, made-to-order unique fur-lined hood Skookum anoraks, light and warm traditional moose hide-covered Steger Mukluks, and completed with beaver mittens.
Plan for additional 10-15 minutes to suit up as you don’t want to perspire while still in the house. Just add your own ski goggles, turtleneck, and balaclava, and you are ready for your Arctic adventures.
Getting Dog Sled Team Training
Our first day started with a training on dog mushing. Anna-Sofia Johansson, the Arctic Chalet resident’s musher chief, instructed the training and safety details. She introduced us to the basic of the sled and how to manage the dogs. The sleds have a light frame usually composed of wood, lines to tie and guide the dogs, a footpad to slow down and a break bar made of 2 metal spikes, and last but not least an anchor.
Anna taught us the three most important words when talking to the dogs: Chi (turn right), Cha (turn left) and No (as in No, stop playing. No, stop now).
On my team was Jasper as a leader, followed by Pippa and Jeroon as Swings, Ungava, and Umiak as Wheels. Bruno’s team included power girls Jazmin and Snowshoes as leaders, with Kamik as Swing, Mukluk, and Ulu as Wheels.
After we met with our dogs in their kennels, the staff showed us how to fit them with their harness and how to attach them up on the main line. The dogs were incredibly friendly with us but not amongst themselves and we had to be careful to keep them separated to avoid fights.
A Week of Arctic Winter Adventures
Arctic Chalet offers a weeklong package of Arctic adventures which followed this itinerary though most of these activities can be booked individually.
- Day 1: Flight arrival in Inuvik in the morning. Dog sled training, dog team meeting and our first dog mushing fun run for 2 hours in the afternoon.
- Day 2 & 3: A 2-day mushing trip with overnight camping on the tundra by Jimmy Lake, 50-km north of Inuvik
- Day 4: Free rest day. We rented a 4WD from Judi and drove on the ice road to the frozen Mackenzie River, and ice cave in Tuk on the Beaufort Sea / Arctic Sea. We also attended the Muskrat Jamboree at night by ourselves.
- Day 5: Reindeer migration and snowmobiling on the Mackenzie River and Richard Island. Muskrat Jamboree at night. We attended the Jamboree again for the second night.
- Day 6 & 7: Another 2-day mushing trip to remote cabin by a large frozen lake
- Day 8: Departure day.
Though we are not accustomed to taking guided tours, and this week was not the cheapest of our trip, the service was exceptional. We were always accompanied by Judi and Anna, the staff was taking care of everything and we each had a team of four to five dogs for ourselves. And our group was of 5 people. We could not have asked for a more personalized and unique service.
How to Get to Inuvik
We first flew from San Francisco to Edmonton where we spent a short night close to the airport. The next morning we boarded a hop-on-hop-off flight, one plane servicing Yellowknife, Norman Wells and finally Inuvik. Olav and Judi picked us up from the airport upon arrival. But you could rent a car as well, either through a car rental agency or through the Arctic Chalet.
Want to read more about the Arctic in winter? Check our posts about our first day guiding our own dogsled, leading our Husky dogs to snowcamp on the tundra, driving on the Ice Road to Tuk, watching the Northern Lights, and learning about traditional Northern Arctic culture at the Muskrat Jamboree.