Monday, February 02, 2009

How to be a good host

Once again, the Algonquin Theatre was packed for AO's presentation of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour. If you missed our shows in Huntsville, check the World Tour web site for screening dates in other locations.

Only a few seats left!

Both nights were very well attended, with only a few empty seats. It is a testament to the adventurous nature of people from Huntsville (and beyond) that a small town like ours can get almost 800 people out on two cold winter nights to see movies they've never heard of! I was really pleased with audience reaction to our choice of films because, quite honestly, you can't please everybody. Thanks to everybody for coming out and supporting this event!

Gord and Stefanie on the trail

We were pleased to welcome Stefanie Gignac back to Huntsville for the second time. Stefanie is one of the BMFF "road warriors," spending her winter travelling across North America representing the World Tour. It always seems to work out that Stephanie and her predecessors end up with a day off in Huntsville, so I try to help them out with ideas for activities (unless they really would prefer to catch up on their sleep). Last year, we sent Stefanie cross-country skiing in Algonquin Park. This year, I really lucked out. Coincidental with her visit, I was offered an opportunity to experience a new dog sledding day program being offered by Outward Bound Canada on Algonquin Park's Sunday Lake Dog Sled Trail. I asked Craig Macdonald, the trail system's developer, if I could bring her along and he (being a nice guy AND a fan of the BMFF) replied, "Absolutely!" OB is one of three dog sled operators using trails systems in the park and this experience allowed us sample their new day and half-day programs, open to the public.

"You are here" at the Sunday Lake Trails

If you haven't experienced dogsledding, it is one of those experiences that should be on every outdoor enthusiast's "list of things to do before I die." Going with an experienced, professional operator guarantees that you will have a safe, enjoyable experience on good trails, with friendly hard-working dogs. The Sunday Lake Trails are specifically designed for dogsled travel, and even follow sections of old dogsled trails from early days in the park, when dog teams were used to resupply logging camps and by park wardens on winter patrols. We met the group at the trailhead, and after our guide Ericka gave us a crash course in "Dogsledding 101," we headed out with our team of five dogs, part of a group of six sleds. The main rule is "whatever you do, don't let go of the sled!"

Mushers in training with our guide, Erica

The best thing about going on a dog sled "tour," as opposed to a dog sled "ride," is that you get to drive the sled. This is surprisingly hard work. While standing on skinny sled runners, you are expected to work the brakes (our sled had two different brakes), shout commands at the dogs, help steer the sled around corners, absorb the bumps and hollows of the trail, duck around snow covered trees, admire the scenery, keep up with the team ahead, help push the sled up hills and avoid stepping in dog doo. We even re-named our wheel dogs (the pair closest to the sled) "Pee" and "Poo," due to their propensity to engage in those behaviors on the trail.

Rule # 2: don't run over the team ahead of you...

Our tour took us up around Zenobia Lake and beyond. On a break, we checked out one of the overnight camps that Outward Bound uses for their overnight expeditions. Both OB and and Chocpaw Expeditions, another operator in South River, have special permission to establish semi-permanent winter camps in Algonquin Park. These camps are taken down at the end of the winter season and are not available for public use. Travelling by dog sled is lot like travelling by canoe - you can take a lot more stuff with you! On an overnight trip, guests sleep in a traditional canvas wall tent, heated by a portable wood stove.

Craig MacDonald and Stefanie outside the wall tent.
(That's the stove pipe coming out the front)

I could go on and on. It was a fantastic experience and Stefanie thinks that Algonquin Outfitters might just garner the "best perk for a road warrior" award for this year's BMFF World Tour. If you'd like to see more pictures and read Stefanie's version of events, visit her blog. After singing the praises of the dog sled experience at Wednesday night's show, she was offered a trip the next day with another local musher. This experience showed her the "extreme" side of dogsledding and it is another good story.

Our photogenic lead dogs

All photos on this blog post by Stefanie Gignac (my camera died!)

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