Kenth Fjellborg is a lucky man.When he first began dreaming of running a sled dog business in the 1980’s, only a handful of tourists found their way to the village of Jukkasjärvi in Swedish Lapland, which has been the home of the Fjellborg family for nine generations. Thus, making a living as a sled dog tour operator seemed difficult and relocating the business to Alaska a tempting idea. Then, in 1990, a visionary local entrepreneur decided to construct a giant igloo to attract visitors to the area. The igloo became ICEHOTEL and the village of Jukkasjärvi a new mecca for those in search of the ultimate winter experience. Soon dog sledding was a natural part of the Lapland experience and many visitors chose to return another year to embark on a more extensive sledding adventure with Fjellborg Arctic Journeys.ICEHOTEL and Fjellborg Arctic Journeys are located on opposite sides of the magnificent Torne River which runs through the heart of Lapland and thus visitors can comfortably enjoy the services of both companies. Upon arrival at the airport in Kiruna, 160 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, guests receive an easy 30-minute transfer to the Fjellborg homestead which is beautifully situated in the pine forest overlooking the Torne River. There are numerous trails starting directly from the kennel and during a 10-day trip it is possible to go on a cross-border sledding trip, exploring the northernmost parts of Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish Lapland. The name “Lapland” comes from the word “Lapp”, which is an old and derogatory term referring to a member of the region’s indigenous reindeer herding people. Today this ethnic minority prefer to be known as the Sámi, but the word Lapland is still widely used in reference to the areas of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia where the Sámi traditionally live. The Sámi people’s own name for their land is Sápmi, and with the increasing involvement of the Sámi in tourism, this name is also becoming more widely known. In many ways, Lapland is a world of contrasts and the village of Jukkasjärvi is a prime example. This village is, on the one hand, the home of ICEHOTEL, where an international crowd dressed in down parkas and moonboots gather in the icebar in the evenings, sipping colorful drinks from ice glasses while discussing the exciting events of the day. On the other hand, the village is the home of local people, many of whom still practice a near subsistence lifestyle based on hunting and gathering, fishing and small scale agriculture. The contrast between the old and the new, between what is remote and yet accessible, is what make dog sledding with Fjellborg Arctic Journeys a unique experience. During the course of a week, guests can combine a hands-on dog sledding adventure in remote corners of the sub-arctic wilderness, with interesting encounters with local culture and a stay at a world famous hotel. Often described as an eight wonder of the world, ICEHOTEL is, of course, a must-see for any visitor to Lapland. Set on the shores of the Torne River, the hotel is a beautifully designed destination comprising of an ice bar, an ice church, magnificent ice-pillar halls and individually decorated ice suites where guests sleep comfortably in sleeping bags placed on a thick layer of reindeer hides. Each spring the hotel melts down and returns as pure water to the river and each winter a completely new hotel is created from the river’s crystal clear ice. ICEHOTEL continues to be innovative and fascinating and it is not surprising that many guests of Fjellborg Arctic Journeys choose to combine dog sledding with a visit to the hotel. Usually one or two days are devoted to exploring this spectacular world of snow and ice, while three days, or more, are set aside for dog sledding. Paul Pregont and the team from the Minnesota-based Adventure Learning Company Go North! (www.polarhusky.com) visited Fjellborg Arctic Journeys in the spring of 2008 and used the Fjellborg homestead as departure point for their Fennoscandia Expedition. The company, which during the last 16 years has been exploring the world on annual dogsled expeditions, found Arctic Lapland in many ways different from other regions at this northern latitude. Here, they encountered a highly developed culture and society where public transportation is available even to very small distant communities and where a very efficient tourist industry has created opportunities for local people. Yet, during their sledding expedition they also experienced the solitude and remote areas one expect in the Arctic: grand mountain vistas, deep reindeer forests, huge lakes and roaring rivers. And above all, a great sense of ‘Arctic hospitality’ among the people they encountered. Occupying an ideal starting point for sled dog expeditions, Fjellborg Arctic Journeys runs guided sled dog tours that range from 1 day excursions suitable for beginners to custom made expedition style sledding stretching over several days or weeks. With three private camps in different locations, a popular choice among guests is to go on a lodge-to-lodge excursion, driving their own team of sled dogs and staying overnight in delightful wilderness accommodations. More adventurous travelers opt for excursions where at least one night is spent sleeping in a winter proof tent or in a Sámi kåta (teepee). On all excursions, guests are responsible for feeding, watering and caring for the dogs and, depending on the trip, often also assist in setting up camp and preparing meals. Besides the pleasure afforded by the pristine Arctic scenery, it is the thrill of learning to control your own team of eager sled dogs and the camaraderie which develops between guests, guides and dogs which make sledding with Fjellborg Arctic Journeys into a truly memorable experience. I have been lucky to participate in two dog sled trips with Fjellborg Arctic Journeys. First as a customer, and later as an accompanying photographer. Being hooked on the sport myself, I nowadays run my own modest team of working Alaskan malamutes at home in Finland. Still, each time I visit the Fjellborg kennel I am equally impressed by the incredible work ethic and drive displayed by their Alaskan Huskies. My mals are no couch potatoes, but standing on the sled behind a team of the Fjellborg sled dogs is an altogether different experience. These dogs are born to run and are trained by Kenth and his team to be top athletes during all times of the year. In fact these dogs are so reliable that they were chosen by the H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco for his sled dog expedition to the North Pole in 2006. Kenth Fjellborg and the company’s senior guide, Tom-Frode Johansen, were among the eight members to take part in the expedition which departed from the floating Russian research station Camp Barneo in the Arctic Ocean and reached the North Pole on April 16th, after four tough days of traveling across the hazardous pack ice. The extraordinary stamina and enthusiasm of the company’s sled dogs enables Fjellborg Arctic Journeys to offer guests the highest level of safety and comfort. Knowing that the dogs will be able to take groups from A to B, no matter the weather or trail conditions, makes it possible to plan more extensive expeditions and also to allow the client to decide much of the itinerary, based on sights of interest and personal preferences. With over one hundred dogs in the kennel, and a close network of local mushers with whom Fjellborg Arctic Journeys is able to collaborate, the company is in the unique position to be able to arrange trips for groups of any size and experience. During my first trip with Fjellborg Arctic Journeys many years ago I had no previous experience of mushing but had to be instructed in everything from how to handle the sled’s brake to which commands to use to control the dogs. Still, I managed to comfortably run my own team of sled dogs on a 4-day excursion, during which we stayed in two different wilderness camps and spent two nights camping in the wild. The gentle landscape surrounding the Fjellborg homestead in Jukkasjärvi offers the perfect introduction to dog sledding and the experienced dogs and helpful guides make you feel safe and well looked after at all times. On my second excursion with the company, which took place last spring, the journey began near the coastal town of Tromsø in northern Norway. The trail took us through spectacular alpine scenery via the Signal Valley down to Lake Torne in Sweden, from where we continued in an easterly direction along the magnificent Torne River trail to Jukkasjärvi. For photo enthusiasts such as myself, this 6-day trip was pure heaven. The vivid colors of late winter made for fantastic shots and the magnificent mountain backdrop and the shear size of the landscape made every day a breathtaking experience. Kenth Fjellborg has lived in Lapland all his life (apart from a year spent in Alaska) and knows the wilderness of Arctic Lapland like his own backyard. He loves to share its hidden gems with his guests and plan each excursion in great detail. With good friends among the indigenous Sámi community, Fjellborg Arctic Journeys is proud to incorporate stays with Sámi families in their longer trips and enable guests to gain a deeper understanding of this unique culture which in many ways symbolizes Lapland and its great wilderness. While the growing snowmobile tourism in Lapland often has a negative impact on the reindeer, especially during the sensitive calving season, dog sled touring seldom interferes with the life of the semi-domesticated animals and is from all perspectives the most sustainable way of enjoying the increasingly fragile sub-arctic environment. From a musher’s perspective, a person who has completed the Iditarod (Kenth placed 20th in 1994), who has conquered the North Pole by dog sled and is able to combine his favorite hobby with earning a living and leading a happy family life, must either be extremely driven or simply a very lucky bastard. I suspect Kenth Fjellborg is both. Curious about what’s left in store for Kenth Fjellborg, mushing-wise, I inquire about the future. As always, Kenth is secretive about his possible plans of returning to competitive sled dog racing and reveals little on this topic. He does, however, hint that there is still a lot left to conquer in northern Scandinavia (both in terms of racing and exploration?). While always on the lookout for the next big adventure, in Kenth’s view nothing really beats spring time sledding near his home in Lapland, where a working day on the trail is followed by a traditional wood-heated sauna before a tasty reindeer steak or grilled local fish is savored for dinner. “Arctic Luxury,” says Kenth with a smile. Knowing what he’s talking about, I can only agree.
Dog scootering involves having your dog(s) pull you on a wheeled scooter whilst attached via