GO TO MUSHING SCHOOL IN CENTRAL ALASKA
Sorry, snow machines. Dog mushing is Alaska’s official state sport, and it remains as vital to the area’s winter recreation scene as March Iditarod madness would imply — and not just for dogsledding iron men. Most any physically fit person with a good sense of balance can learn the ropes of whooshing through Alaska’s wild interior behind a willing team of huskies. Just bring some serious thermal underwear and an open mind and leave that cutesy voice you use for your cocker spaniel at home.
Mushing students drive dog teams along Alaska’s Maclaren Glacier Trail.
“We get a lot of people from Texas, California, Australia and other warm places who come up here to enjoy that famous arctic winter the way it should be experienced — behind a dog team,” says Leslie Goodwin, owner of Fairbanks-based Paws for Adventure, which runs half- and full-day mushing classes and dogsledding overnights for those of us who won’t be racing the 1,150 miles from Anchorage to Nome this year. “Understanding what it means to travel by dog team through the wilderness is a skill you can keep perfecting for your entire life. But mushing newcomers can learn a lot in a day or two.”
Goodwin’s mushing school starts from the very basics, teaching you how to safely “establish a working relationship” with a three- to five-dog team as well as how to harness them, use a snow hook and ride the runners — and understand what all that stuff means. “It’s a lot more involved than people think,” Goodwin says. “Adventuring with sled dogs takes balance and coordination and is a real joint effort. It’s not just the dogs doing all the work.” After some on-site training at the Paws for Adventure grounds, mushing students partake in an eight- to 10-mile “Fun Run” through wild, spruce-lined trails in the Chena River Valley. A three-day beginner’s tour also includes a 20- to 30-mile overnight trip in the backcountry.
Whisking across a snowy landscape, the huskies head toward the base of the glacier.
“It’s really an experience like nothing else,” says Gib Egge, an outdoor-pursuits instructor at Illinois’ College of DuPage who has brought several of his students to Goodwin’s class. “No people, no hums of snowmobiles — nothing but jingling collars and the faint sound of a sled cutting through the snow. And suddenly it hits you: ‘Wow, I’m actually dogsledding in Alaska. This is unreal.’”
Goodwin advises that the best time to go is in late February or March — “when the days get a little longer and the cold isn’t quite as intense as it is in December and January.” www.pawsforadventure.com
RIDE OUT WINTER — ON A WAVE — ON OAHU’S NORTH SHORE
Since when did Hawaii belong in a getting-your-winter-thrills article? Actually, like Utah, New Hampshire and Alaska, the Aloha State gets its own wild version of winter — 30 miles from Honolulu International Airport, on Oahu’s North Shore,
when the largest North Pacific storm–fueled swells hit those fabled breaks at Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach and Banzai Pipeline, home to some of the biggest annual surfing competitions. But is there anywhere out there for you, a North Shore snowbird with dreams of riding a wave (maybe even your first) in one of the world’s most famous surfing meccas?
Surfing may be the ultimate winter sport. Head to the North Shore of Oahu and let the pros show you how to ride the waves.
“Everyone comes out to the North Shore in the winter to watch the pros compete on those huge, exotic waves, but it’s not all Banzai Pipeline,” says Hans Hedemann, a former pro-surfing champion and the founder of Hans Hedemann Surf School. “You can be checking out guys doing 25-foot waves at Waimea Bay in the morning, then sign up for a lesson with us and get in your own dream session in another perfect spot on the North Shore — tailored to you — whether you’re an intermediate who wants to step it up a notch or a total beginner.”
Hedemann’s classes range from “Go with a Pro” private sessions on challenging North Shore breaks (the school also has a second location in Waikiki) to two-hour group lessons for boardless beginners in carefully selected sites that run through all the basics — how to be safe, how to paddle, how to balance and position your stance, how to get up — and include an assurance that, yes, you will be on your feet riding a wave in the North Shore by the time class is dismissed.
“We get folks with reservations about taking their first surfing lesson here given the area’s kind of fierce reputation, especially at this time,” Hedemann says. “Then they’re out there surfing and having a total blast in some gorgeous sheltered cove, and you can see that instant — that look on their face — when their whole attitude changes about everything. I love that moment, and so do they.” www.hhsurf.com