The sled was swishing across the moonlit snow, taking smooth turns between spindly trees as the team of five huskies in front of me trotted on silently, reaching down every few meters to lap up fresh snow with their long, pink tongues.
The snow-lapping made me giggle. As did the fact that lead dog would look back and glare at me any time I made said giggling noise. For these dogs, this is serious work. No giggling allowed.
I've been dogsledding before, but this was the first time I was “driving” a sled myself. (Though, let's be honest – the dogs were 100% in charge, and I was just along for the ride.) Also, unlike my first dogsledding experience in Canada, this ride was being done in the dark.
Located just outside the small city of Alta, the Holmen Husky Lodge didn't start as a tourist endeavor. When owner Eirik Nilsen moved to Alta in 1987, it was to race. Alta is home to the Finnmarksløpet dogsled race, the longest race of its kind in Europe, and Eirik has run it more than a dozen times (and has three wins under his belt).
In 1996, though, Eirik realized that visitors to Alta were interested in dogsledding, too – and so the Holmen Husky Lodge was born. Today, people can visit year-round to drive sleds, cuddle puppies, and even stay overnight in luxurious lavvo tents – which is exactly what I was there for.
This experience with the Holmen Husky Lodge in Alta, Norway, is perhaps one of the most unique ones I had on my recent trip to Northern Norway.
As soon as we arrived from Alta, we were immediately geared up in thick snowsuits and thermal boots in preparation for our 15-kilometer sled ride through the snowy forest. The light was failing fast as we were instructed how to “drive” the sled (long story short: hold on and don't fall off), and then before we knew it we were setting off into the twilight. It was a partly cloudy night, but the brief peeps of moonlight coupled with the headlamps we wore meant that we had no trouble making out the wintry landscape surrounding us as we rode.
The ride was smooth and not too fast – I barely had to use the brake at all when it was my turn to drive – and was actually over far too quickly. We pulled back into the dog yard after dark, and were finally able to give our dog teams some well-deserved pats.
If I'm being perfectly honest, I am 100 percent a cat person. I can appreciate cute dogs and their silly antics, but I'd rather hang out with and cuddle cats any day. So the prospect of staying overnight at a place with nearly 80 dogs wasn't exactly something I was giddy about.
But I needn't have worried – while the dogs are a big part of the Holmen overnight experience, they aren't the ONLY part.
After some cuddles and praise for the dogs, it was time to tour our overnight accommodation.
Most visitors to the Holmen Husky Lodge come during the day for a dogsledding experience, some doggie bonding time, and hot drinks before heading back to Alta. And a large portion of these visitors are from the cruise ships that call periodically in Alta's small port.
But Holmen also offers multi-day dogsled tours, as well as overnight stays.
We got a tour of the “main house” first, which consists of a beautiful kitchen/dining area and a cozy living room. I fell in love immediately, and threatened that I might never leave.
Next we saw the bath house, complete with piping hot showers, another lounge area with huge floor-to-ceiling windows, and a hot tub and sauna outside.
And then finally we saw where we would be spending the night – in modernized lavvo tents.
A lavvo is a traditional tent used by the indigenous Sami people of northern Norway. Traditionally, these are made by stretching reindeer hides over wooden poles and lighting a fire in the center for warmth/cooking. At Holmen, though, the lavvos are much more luxurious: they're made solidly from wood and glass, contain a full-sized bed (with one of the heavenly mattresses all Norwegians seem to own), and are heated by a small wood-burning stove.
Talking about glamping! (Which, in case you're not familiar with the term, basically just means “glamorous camping.” Roughing it, this is not.)
After dropping our things off (and, in my case, squealing a bit at how awesome the place is), we headed back into the main building for a delicious cod dinner and some chatting before dinner. The owner, Eirik, had a drink with Marie and I, and we chatted about everything from dogs to the U.S. healthcare system to how we all deal with answering a lot of emails every week. Eirik is your typical Norwegian – blunt and to the point, and yet clearly really passionate about what he does.
Our evening was done after dinner, but as I was headed back to my lavvo, I happened to look up and see a break in the clouds overhead. And any break in the clouds above this part of northern Norway in winter means a chance for a sighting of the Northern Lights.
And, sure enough, within a few minutes I spied the aurora peeping out from behind the fast-moving clouds.
I ran inside to grab my camera and tripod, and messaged Marie to come outside as quickly as possible.
The cloud clearing only lasted for about 15 minutes, but that was long enough to get one of my favorite photos from the trip:
And then, just as quickly as they'd come, the Northern Lights were gone again. That aurora – she can be so fickle sometimes!
The fire had gone out in my lavvo by the time I went to bed, and I wasn't able to get it restarted. But thankfully the comfy bed comes equipped with electric blankets, so I was still able to sleep cozily until 79 barking sled dogs woke me up at breakfast time.
A group of cruise ship passengers were visiting in the morning, which meant that we got to see first-hand the flurry of activity that's necessary to get 10+ dog sled teams ready to go as we sipped our coffee. The dogs were SO excited to be running again, and I felt sorry for the few that were left behind in the dog yard to watch forlornly as their canine peers bounded off to be harnessed up.
The dogs at Holmen are all Alaskan huskies, however they don't look like the “husky” you're probably picturing. In fact, “Alaskan husky” is actually just a nice way of saying “any dog bred with the desire to RUN.” As Eirik reminded us, he doesn't breed dogs based on looks – he breeds them based on their enthusiasm to race.
And the dogs at the Holmen Husky Lodge definitely have that enthusiasm.
When it came time to say goodbye to the dogs and the lodge an hour or so later, I found myself actually reluctant to go. I may not be a dog person, but I can certainly recognize a unique and memorable experience when one is put in front of me.
If you ever find yourself in Alta, I highly recommend an overnight stay at the Holmen Husky Lodge!
IF YOU GO…
What: Holmen Husky Lodge “Northern Night Package” package
Where: Alta, Norway (they'll pick you up from a hotel in town if you don't have a car)
When: September 15 – April 30; pick-up is usually around 4 p.m., and you'll be back in Alta the next day between 10 and 11 a.m.
How much: NOK 2990 (about $350 USD) per person
What's included: Transfer to/from Alta, a 15-kilometer dogsled ride, dinner and breakfast, and accommodation in a lavvo (price is for double occupancy). You are also free to visit the dogs, hang out in any of the common areas, and use the sauna and hot tub.
Is this something that's going on your Norway bucket list? (Hint: It should be!)
Note: Big thanks to Visit Northern Norway and the Holmen Husky Lodge for hosting me during my stay, and for the folks at North Adventure in Alta for coordinating it all. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.