Dog Sledding in Hokkaido

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As a person who has been living in a tropical country all his life, I have always wanted to experience snow and the winter season. Since I was a kid, I have seen several movies and videos of others experiencing the cold winter season. I have always been wondering what’s it like to feel snow falling in your face, seeing the streets and the surrounding environment all white, watching kids build a snowman, and just experiencing that cold cold weather. So when I decided to finally make my childhood dream come true, I decided to go to the winter capital of Japan, Hokkaido! There are many winter destinations aside from Hokkaido but considering the cost and distance from the Philippines, this was the best option for me.

I knew coming in that I didn’t just want to experience snow and winter as that would not be enough to satisfy the adventurous side in me. I had to do tons of research to find a winter activity that would be exciting and at the same time not many people have done. After searching and reading a lot of travel blogs, the usual winter activities you will read in Hokkaido were snowboarding, skiing, and ice fishing. Don’t get me wrong, these are all great activities but there was just something missing. So one night, while having coffee in UCC in Greenhills, my friend Brian and I saw that there are places that offer dog sledding in Hokkaido! We both were shocked to find out as we thought that dog sledding was only available in countries near the Arctic like Alaska, Greenland, Finland, Iceland, and Norway. We were so happy that Japan offers dogsledding and we immediately decided that this would be the winter activity we will go with.

Let me take you step by step on how you can dog sled in Hokkaido. I will layout in detail everything you need to know before going. Here we go!

Where is Hokkaido?

Hokkaido is an island located in the far north of Japan. It is roughly around 1,200km away from Tokyo. Hokkaido is considered the winter capital of Japan as locals usually go here during the winter season. The main city of Hokkaido is Sapporo. This is where your journey will usually start.

Capture
from Google Maps

The winter season of Hokkaido starts mid November until March of the next year. The average temperature during this time ranges from 0C to -15C depending on where you are in the island. We visited during the second week of December and temperatures dropped to as low as -12C. Make sure you bring the right clothing to keep yourself warm.

How to get to Hokkaido?

There are 2 ways to get to Hokkaido from Tokyo City.

First option would be to take a local flight from Narita International Airport to Sapporo city, Hokkaido (New Chitose Airport). You can choose from many local airlines such as ANA Air, Japan Airlines, Peach Aviation, JetStar and Vanilla Air. After comparing prices and flight times, we decided to go with Vanilla Air which costs us P4000 for a one way fare. We booked directly to their website. This flight would take around 1 hour and 45 minutes.

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My friends Ramby and Brian freezing at -12C

Second option would be to take the train which is the JR Line from Tokyo to Sapporo. The train ride would take around 16 hours and would cost around P13,500. You can buy tickets from the Shinjuku station and start the train ride there.

Depending on your budget and schedule, these are the travel options you can choose from. We decided to take the place since it is much faster and more importantly… cheaper!!!

Dog Sledding

Although the island of Hokkaido is mostly covered in snow during winter, dog sledding is not available everywhere and definitely not near Sapporo city. You would have to travel to the nearby provinces (eastern Hokkaido) of Shikaoi, Asahikawa, Monbetsu-gun, Tomamu, and Rusutsu to experience dog sledding. Japan has a very effective and efficient transportation system and getting to these provinces is very easy either via bus or the train (JR Line).

One thing you also have to consider is the timing of dog sledding. Operators usually need a certain amount of snow before starting their tours and they would not accommodate guests if there is less snow. The tour operators open dog sledding at different times so make sure you book wisely. Here is a guide for reference.

**May change depending on season
3rd week of December to March – Shikaoi, Monbetsu-gun
January to March – Asahikawa, Tomamu, and Rusutsu

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Thick snow all around the area

In terms of actual dog sledding, the tour operators would have around 8-10 sled dogs to pull you around. The difference is some operators have a “sled driver” who will control the sled while you ride as the passenger, while others will teach you how to “drive” and control the sled yourself. (of course the latter would be the better option). The distance of the “track” also varies. The short course would be around 6km only while others have a 15km course.

After considering all options including the cost, we finally decided to go with a tour operator in Shikaoi province called Mushing Works Sled Dog Tours! We got in touch with the owner Takeshi who was very helpful and surprisingly can speak good English! They were one of the few that offers the self-drive sled and you even get you experience riding on a snow mobile. The sled dogs that were used were called Alaskan Huskies, a breed to Siberian Huskies with a Greyhound. The reason why they used this breed was because Siberian Huskies and Malamutes can pull the sled but are too slow and focus more on power. The Alaskan Huskies has the speed which makes the tour fun and exciting!

I will add the contact details of Mushing Works at the end of this blog.

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The dogs like me hehe

Itinerary

This is a 1 day itinerary from Sapporo

7:00AM – Call Time
7:30AM – Walk from AirBnb to Sapporo JR station
8:00AM – Arrive at Sapporo JR station, buy tickets, breakfast
8:54AM – Departure to Shintoku station (2 hours & 30 mins)
11:30AM – Arrive at Shintoku station / snacks
12:00NN – Van pick up at the station to Mushing Works
12:30PM – Arrive at Mushing Works
12:45PM – Dog Sledding Orientation
1:00PM – Start of Tour
3:00PM – End of Tour, Departure to Shintoku Station
3:30PM – Arrival at Shintoku station
4:00PM – Departure to Sapporo Station
6:30PM – Arrival at Sapporo station

Check out the video here –> Dog Sledding Video

7:00AM – Call time
We got out of our beds and started going to the train station. One of the first things I noticed during winter is that the roads are so slippery when covered in snow!

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Woke up early to catch the morning train
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Sapporo City, Hokkaido during winter

7:30AM – Walk from AirBnb to Sapporo JR station
The Odori park covered in snow. It was very cold that day at -10C in the morning

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Odori park with the subway entrance to the right side

8:54AM – Departure to Shintoku station (2 hours & 30 mins)
The 2 hour train gave us a view of eastern Hokkaido all in white!

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Winter wonderland!

12:00NN – Van pick up at the station to Mushing Works
The owner Takeshi picked us up from the train station to his kennel. This is the Kato-gun town. The van ride took another 30 mins.

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Snow all over. I was very happy to finally experience snow!

12:30PM – Arrive at Mushing Works
Here we are! Finally at Mushing Works. This was also featured in the TV Biyahe in Drew but we got here first hehe. I think Drew came a few weeks after we went.

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One of the best dog sledding tours in all of Hokkaido!
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Takeshi, the owner of this kennel has 48 sled dogs.

12:45PM – Dog Sledding Orientation
We were taught how to “drive the sled”

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Time to put on the equipments
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Quick orientation before we start. We are so excited!!!

1:00PM – Start of Tour
One of the best days of our lives!

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With a great view of the snow capped mountains at the back
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They run so fast!!!
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What a memorable experience
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Nothing beats travelling abroad with your friends =)

3:30PM – Arrival at Shintoku station
Going back to the city.

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Tired , cold but happy

Mushing Works Contact Details

Mushing Works Dog Sledding Tour
Owner & Contact Person: Takeshi Takita
Email: mushingworks.info@gmail.com — book early!
HOW TO GET THERE:
JR Train from Sapporo to Shintoku station
Takeshi will pick you up at the train station – pick up and drop off at the station already included in the fee
COST:
Rate: Php24,000 — 3 pax. This is the 2017 rate.
TRAIL DETAILS:
Total distance of the trail is 12KM
– 8 Alaskan Huskies
– 2 persons at a time on the sled
– 3rd person will take turns riding. Will also follow the sled via snow mobile
– includes rental of clothes and picture and video souvenir
– payment needed prior schedule. payment through credit card only.
– cash payment not accepted
SCHEDULE:
– Mid December to March only
– 2 schedules per day only
– 9AM or 2PM slot
– walk-ins not allowed
– no reservation, no sledding

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