In the silent forest of big fir trees, I hear only the felted gallop of the dogs, the crunching of the snow under the skates of the sleigh and the encouragements of the musher to his team.
Since I discovered the extraordinary and heroic role of sled dogs on the Hautes-Vosges ridges during the First World War, I am fascinated by the courage and beauty of these incredible doggies. On this March 6, 2016 I have the opportunity for the first time to follow a real Nordic sled dog race at the ski resort of Lac Blanc, on the heights of the valley of Kaysersberg, not far away from Riquewihr.
The event had already been postponed twice. The organizers always plan other dates in case of lack of snow but this time is the right one! This weekend, the snow falls in abundance. Even if access to the station is always quickly cleared, snow tires are essential and having a set of chains in the trunk is prudent.
The rendezvous, as every year, is given at the Auberge du Blancrupt. Many teams are already scattered almost everywhere. There are a multitude of magnificent dogs!
1, 2, 4 dogs? Or more?
The track of the race follows about ten kilometers through the magnificent snowy landscapes. I was also told that there are several categories of teams and races. Today, in competition, only teams of Nordic breeds (Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Samoyed and Greenland Dog) are allowed. The three types of harnessings used are the pulka, a kind of sledge but not used at the Lac Blanc; ski-joering: one or two dogs are harnessed to a cross-country skier; and the dog sled with teams of four to 10 dogs or more. There are three main categories of events: the most common is the sprint, with a distance of less than 20 km. It is in this category that the Lac Blanc race takes place.
Moments of pure happiness for the skier and his dog …
I knew the sled runs but it is at Lac Blanc that I discover the canine ski joëring, a discipline in which one or two dogs, pull a cross-country skier. At Lac Blanc they are the first to start. The cross-country skier provides power to the skis and sticks, and the dog adds extra power by running and pulling. The skier wears a harness and the dog wears a sled dog harness. The two are linked by a strap. There are no reins or other signaling devices to control the dog. The dog must be motivated by his desire to run and respond to his master’s voice for leadership.
The master (or mistress, there are many girls, much lighter than boys, who run with their dog) maintains a fusional relationship with his dog. You must see the two companions together on the track: the dog pulls, the skier pushes on the sticks! The two fly in an immaculate and silent nature …
Harnessings of dogs flying over the track!
And then come competitors of a very different category: the large teams launched at an impressive pace! The role of the leading dog is essential: it is him who takes the team in his trail. And when I look into their eyes, I am impressed!
To make my pictures I left before the start of the race to settle in the snow, away from the crowd of people watching the departure and arrival. In the silent forest of big fir trees, I hear only the felted gallop of the dogs, the crunching of the snow under the skates of the sleigh and the encouragements of the musher to his team. The dogs are eager to please the musher. They fly over the track, all tongues out, with hypnotized eyes. Snow is their thing!
This dog sled race is organized every year at the resort of Lac Blanc. Frankly, I’m glad to be here. You too, you should come 😉
What about you and your dog?
But, to attend the dog sled race of Lac Blanc, you will have to leave your dog at home. In order not to disturb the competitors, they are not admitted.
At the Auberge du Blancrupt
This Auberge is rustic and friendly ! The simple but well-heated rooms remind one of a hostel. Neither luxury nor frills: what is important is to be near the snow. The self-service restaurant is open to all with a good hearty cuisine to give energy to the snow lovers . The friendliness does the rest …
The ski resort of Lac Blanc
The Lac Blanc ski resort is a real and beautiful ski resort less than half an hour’s drive from the Alsatian vineyards. Downhill skiing enthusiasts, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing; Beginners or experienced, the Lac Blanc offers you beautiful moments and a breath of fresh air in a magnificent landscape. See our dedicated page with hints and tips about skiing in the Alsatian Vosges mountains.
Where in the Vosges to make a ride with sled dogs?
Be aware that all activities have to be booked a very long time in advance (high demand in winter, especially during school holidays).
« Les Chemins du Nord » (The Northern Paths) is a small family company founded in 2008 by Anne-Lise and Frederic Dubray, specialized in the organization and supervision of activities with huskies and reindeer. With a professional experience closely linked to nature (Anne-Lise is a mountain guide and speleologist, and Frederick is a logger), they have done various expeditions with their dogs (Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and the Vosges Mountains), so they decided to share with the public their passion of nature.
Les Chemins du Nord – Anne-Lise DUBRAY – « La Petite Finlande » – 290 Schoultzbach – 68 370 Orbey (not far away from Lac Blanc ski resort).
Tel / Fax : +33 3 89 71 00 37 – Mobile phone : +33 6 20 06 39 15
At the Schnepfenried ski resort, it is possible to take a sled excursion drawn by the dog sledges of Rêve du Nord: Fabien, Marina and their pack of Nordic dogs offer you to share a unique moment of escape. But watch out, the sleigh ride is a very popular activity. You have to book a very long time in advance. But watching the teams progress on the snow is also a superb show.
Rêve du Nord — Tél 06 89 45 84 75.
tél 06 20 59 26 55
Between the Donon and Pierre Percée at BIONVILLE (54)
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