Our summer job is beyond awesome. We get to hang out with our dogs all summer long and introduce people to dogsledding either at our kennel in Seward, Alaska or on our home away from home, Godwin Glacier. It’s a lot fun sharing our passion with guests to Alaska and our glacier dog sled tours help us train a competitive race team.
Running a remote dog sledding camp and tour is no easy feet. We are in our third year of running tours on Godwin Glacier and each year we assemble our remote camp in May and disassemble it in September. Lots of careful planning is involved because we strictly adhere to leave-no-trace camping skills: everything that goes onto the glacier must also come off the glacier — including dog poop!
What Is A Glacier
Glaciers are the result of snow accumulation that is greater than the amount of snow that melts during the summer. This snow eventually compresses into very dense glacier ice. As more snow compresses into ice, the glacier begins to flow in the path of least resistance which is generally downward causing the glacier to expand. The underside of the glacier travels slower than the top of the glacier due to friction with the ground. These changes in speed result in the ice cracking, forming large crevasses. Although crevasses can be found on any part of a glacier, they are mostly found at areas where the glacier is under stress. The accumulation zone generally has very few crevasses.
Although at 3700′ feet we are likely to have snow at our camp until the end of June, the hot summer sun beats down on the the glacier causing snow to melt at a rate of 2-6 inches a day. Godwin Glacier is currently receding. This means that the snow falling in the accumulation zone is not producing enough pressure to continue to push the glacier ice outward. Although we still have lots of snow in the accumulation zone, the toe of Godwin glacier has moved back approximately 30 feet in the last three years.
Glacier Dog Sledding: Camp Overview
Our dogsled camp is located at 3700′ feet elevation in the accumulation zone of Godwin Glacier. Godwin Glacier sits on the edge of Chugach National Forest and Kenai Fjords National Park. Nestled quietly among mountains, it’s very easy to forget an outside world exists! It is approximately a 10 minute helicopter flight from the Seward Airport to our dog camp.
We receive a tremendous amount of snowfall throughout the winter because of our local geography. Godwin glacier is located on a mountain that rises dramatically out of the ocean quickly gaining elevation. This sudden rise of land pushes weather systems up into the colder part of the atmosphere. Last year, our last recorded snow fall was on June 27th. During the month of June, we had approximately 3 feet of snow fall while we were on the glacier.
We often expect snowfall as the main form of precipitation until late June and expect it again in early September. Because of this, we are able to run our glacier dog sled tours late in the season. Last year, we were the last glacier dog sledding operation to close and anticipate once again claiming that title. This year, we estimate that we started the season with over 60 feet of snow and have steadily been gaining more snow.
Our dogs enjoy their time on Godwin Glacier immensely. For a sled dog, there is simply nothing better than getting to run on snow. For our guests, glacier dog sled tours mean a chance to experience the epitome of Alaskan culture without having to visit during the frigid winter months. Living in a remote environment, however, requires many careful considerations.
Living On Godwin Glacier
Our guides generally live on Godwin glacier for 4 to 7 days at a time before being flown off the glacier to have a few days off. We have a rotating staff of well qualified guides who are all in their second season working with us. Additionally, we have another guide who joined us from another company. We feel pretty blessed when it comes to our coworkers: we have a really great crew and love to have fun together.
While living on the glacier, our guides have many important duties to attend to besides giving dog sled rides. Although providing a great customer experience is their number one job, in this post we are going behind the scenes to share what their other job duties entail.
Being able to communicate with our dog camp is incredibly important to us. We have used a combination of different methods in the past with limited success. This year, we purchased a satellite phone for a no-worry system of being able to communicate between dog camp and the ground. Good communication is important for safety reasons. We communicate with our guides a minimum of two times a day.
Flying To Dog Camp
We use Robinson 44 helicopters that seat 3 passengers and a pilot. Our pilot, Michael Culver, is back for his third season with us. Our helicopters require good visibility for flying. If weather conditions are not optimal or their is limited visibility, we cannot get to camp. In those events, we do not fly. We work with our guests to reschedule their trips, if possible, around any other activities they have planned. Because of this, we always recommend people booking us for their first day in Seward.
Taking Care of Sled Dogs on A Glacier
One of the most important parts of our guides job is to take care of our sled dogs. Our sled dogs are competitive racing athletes. Their care is of the utmost important to us. During the summer, our dogs work hard — glacier dog mushing is a great strength training program for the team — so they eat a minimum of two meals a day.
Our guides prepare a mixed meal with either beef or chicken and dog food. We currently feed a blend of two different dog foods: one is fish based and another chicken based to ensure an all around balanced meal. The dogs will also receive snacks on busy days where they are running more to help keep them energized.
We are constantly resupplying our dog food levels on the glacier. During guest flights, we may store a bag of dog food under one of the helicopter seats or strap it to an exterior cargo rack so that we can have plenty of extra food in camp. It is important to stock up on things such as dog food so that in the event the helicopter can’t get up to camp, our dogs can still eat. We keep a minimum of 7 days worth of dog food in camp at all times but often have more.
With eating, comes the aftermath — dog poop! Dog poop must be scooped on a regular basis up on the glacier. We always want our dog yard looking pristine for our guests and because a clean dog yard is part of good dog care. In addition to scooping our dog yard, we also scoop the trail our dogs run on. Anyone who has been mushing before can attest to the fact that dogs will “go on the go” so at the end of the day we snow machine the trail and scoop poop. The poop is put into 55 gallon drums that are then flown off the glacier, pumped by a local outhouse company, and are then flown back up onto the glacier.
Additionally, our guides must rake up our dogs hair. Our sled dogs shed throughout the season. Because we are leave-no-trace that means we must rake up their hair. It’s amazing how much our dogs shed throughout the summer. Raking up dog hair is a daily chore for our guides.
One of the reasons we like keeping our dog sled camp small is because of all the expenses of having to fly dog food up to the glacier and dog poop off the glacier. Fewer dogs means fewer flights and ultimately less work for our staff which means they can focus more on providing quality tours.
During warm days, the snow on the glacier obviously melts and it doesn’t always melt evenly. When we place our dog houses or tents on the glacier, the snow around them melts faster. Our guides need to constantly level their living quarters and our dogs houses so that they provide a good home and so that camp is kept looking tidy.
As the season progresses, our guides will also work on moving camp. Throughout the summer our usable area of the glacier shrinks. At the start of the season, with 60ft of snow, we can travel almost anywhere we want as snow melts, however, we reduce the area we run our tours in because of the potential of crevasses.
Although we operate in the accumulation zone of the glacier, crevasses can occur anywhere on a glacier. One of the most important jobs our guides have are to ensure the safety of our trail and camp by probing for crevasses.Crevasses are formed by ice moving at different speeds or coming under pressure. Because of this, we move our trails inward and operate on only the flattest part of the glacier.
It is common to see small cracks along the surface of the snow, even in the accumulation zone of the glacier where our camp is set up. These small surface cracks generally do not have crevasses under them. It is our policy, however, to probe and investigate each crack that arises. Towards the end of the season, when we probe our camp and trail, we will actually hit glacier ice. If we do find crevasses, our guides carefully mark them off and immediately move our trail. Safety is our number one priority as a company!
Our guides have a number of options for entertainment while living on Godwin Glacier. We have a generator in camp for our guides and for safety reasons. We need to be able to charge our satellite phone and our aviation radios. Our guides also like to charge their computers and DVD players for rainy days when they don’t want to do much outside.
On beautiful days after tours our guides may hike, ski, snowboard, or dog sled. Living on a glacier is the perfect place for the active outdoor enthusiast who is good at entertaining themselves. Generally, our guides enjoy also enjoy serious games of cribbage and, our new favorite, Monopoly Deal to pass the time. It’s a very relaxing place to live as, with limited communication, the stress of modern life disappears.
As a company, we have an annual staff barbecue on the glacier where we hold summer dog sled races, go sledding and play trivia. Providing a fun work environment is important to us because our crew is our family.
Why Choose Our Glacier Dog Sled Tour
Although there are glacier dog sledding tours located throughout the state of Alaska, our dog sled tour has some unique things that truly set it apart. Our dog sled camp is the smallest in the state.
Our kennel is located in Seward just a short flight from our dog sledding camp allowing us to easily adjust the number of dogs in our camp to our schedule. Although we specialize in small hands on tours, we are able to handle large groups. We can quickly adapt to meet the demands of a 30 person tour and frequently throughout the summer do a few large tours for corporate groups or large family reunions.
Unlike some of the bigger dog sled tour companies, we are not affiliated or contracted with the Alaska cruise ship industry which means we are able to keep our tours affordable. We have the best rates on glacier dog sledding in the state of Alaska because we want to share our passion with you!
We like being small for several reasons:
- Small tours mean you can have as hands-on an experience as you want.
- Our guides are 100% dedicated to your experience.
- Our R-44 helicopters allow everyone a window seat.
- Dog sledding is about enjoying the serenity of nature and the bond between musher and dog; small tours allow this.
- Small tours mean we do not have helicopters constantly running so you are able to enjoy the quiet beauty that our secluded glacier has to offer.
Whereas other glacier dog sledding operations lease sled dogs from mushers not associated with their operation, we use our own dogs. We know everything about our sled dogs because we have raised many since birth.
We are also very proud of the fact that our dog camp is home to 23 year old, 11th place Iditarod Finisher Travis Beals. Travis oversees the care of our dogs and we routinely rotate our dogs on and off the glacier so they all get time-off. Travis has been given awards for best-dog care by two different dog sled races: The Tustumena 200 and The Copper Basin 300. Travis runs tours on Godwin Glacier part-time to evaluate dogs but spends a majority of his time operating our kennel tours.
Other Glacier Dog Sled Tours in Alaska
Not everyone is fortunate enough to travel to Seward, Alaska but this doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the fun and excitement of glacier dog sledding. There are glacier dog sled tours all across the state, allowing you to experience the magic of winter in the summer time.