Imagine cutting through the breathtaking mountain scenery of the French Alps, behind a team of beautiful and friendly huskies while hearing the distinctive call “Mush, mush!” echoing through the forest. This is possible in Morzine, which now offers husky riding as one its most unique and exciting winter activities.
Husky riding began in Alaska and Canada in the mid-1600s as a way to transport people and goods over vast distances. Huskies were raised by the Chukchi peoples of Siberia to work as sled dogs as they were quick, strong, trusting, intelligent and sociable. Their heartiness and bravery became legendary in the frigid and unforgiving northern climes, and they are prized animals to this day.
Siberian Huskies are the most famous of the dogsled breeds, because they are smaller and make for faster racing dogs. However, there are also several other breeds that are used for their strength and heartiness. These include the all-white Samoyed, the powerful Greenland Dog and the people-loving Alaskan Malamute. All of them have distinctive characteristics, but they are all members of the Spitz family of dogs. Because of this, they share common traits that include their curled tails, friendly natures and love of work.
Sled dog owners are known to be deeply connected to their dogs. That’s largely because sled dogs are so loyal and their personalities are infectious. The simple joy of bonding with the dog team during a drive makes the experience of husky riding worthwhile.
The people who drive these dogs are called mushers because of the distinctive “Mush, mush!” call that they sometimes use to direct their dogs to start moving. The word mush is actually a variation of the French term “marche,” meaning “to walk.” This has led to the activity of dog sledding sometimes being referred to as “mushing.” However, English-speaking mushers also use the command “Hike” instead of “Mush!” because it is sharper sounding and easier for the dogs to hear. Other distinctive commands that mushers use include making a kissing sound to tell the dogs to speed up, and saying “Easy!” to get them to slow down.
Adults who go husky riding can take turns perfecting their own “Mush, mush!” while learning to drive the dogs. Children, on the other hand, stay securely tucked in and warm on the sled itself. The dogs kick up some snow as they run, so everyone on board needs to dress warmly and wear sunglasses or goggles to protect their vision.
Morzine even offers a chance to see husky riding at its best. Every few years in January, the village hosts a stage of La Grande Odyssée Savoie Mont Blanc. This is a race between the twenty top mushers in the world that has a purse of $100,000 US. La Grande Odyssée is a major international race and is considered to be the most difficult long-distance stage race of all because of its two week time span, ten stages and ascents of over 25,000 meters. It’s an event that’s not to be missed.
Even for those who don’t intend to make it to the professional level, husky riding offers an once-in-a-lifetime experience in addition to Morzine’s other exciting recreational options, like skiing and snowboarding. An afternoon husky riding should be at the top of anyone’s list who is visiting the area.