As you pull on snow pants and boots beside a wood stove in a log cabin outside Whitehorse, a little girl named Nola is asking for your name. You emphasize the ‘A’ in ‘Ailsa,’ and then you stifle a sigh and wait to hear the words you’ve heard ever since a certain movie came out in 2013. Then you reply, “Sure. Elsa. Like in Frozen.”
You, Nola, her mother—Marine—and a dozen or so Bowie-eyed dogs are now in a truck going up into the mountains. On the way, you learn from Nola that her favourite food is spaghetti and ketchup. You learn from her mom that the six-and-a-half-year-old sitting next to you has already driven her own team of huskies on multi-day trips in the mountains. You look again at this child—who’s currently showing you her wiggly front tooth with pride—and you realize she’s extraordinary.
At Fish Lake on Kwanlin Dun territory, you all hop out of the truck. There are floating ravens. Snow sticks to the birch branches like blossoms; the morning sun is a frozen lit-up blur of tangerine. You think this might be the most beautiful place you’ve ever been.
For a few minutes the world is a glorious tangle of legs and tongues and paws as you help Marine put harnesses on the huskies. You are so ready for your horse-and-carriage-type ride. But Marine is showing you how to work the foot brakes on a sled, and now you understand you’re going to be on your own.
Marine has dreamed of mushing adventures ever since she was a little girl growing up in France. From the age of eight, she was making pretend harnesses for her pet dog, Whisky. She read every polar sledding story she could find. As soon as she could, she began working with sled dogs in Sweden, Norway and the Alps. Now she has her very own family outfitter: Into the Wild Adventures.
And you’re off! You’re swinging through boreal woods with your four huskies. You’re noticing nothing but the feeling of excitement coursing through your sweating, jittering body as you surf through the trees, over rock and snow.
Marine is waiting for you round a bend. She says, “You’re doing well!” And you feel you are. You no longer mind that you’re not out riding with big fluffy malamutes that look somewhere between a shaggy carpet and a cartoon. You watch these Alaskan huskies move as one rhythm, as one breath—more like a river than anything else—and they’re perfect.
As you reach a steep hill, you decide you won’t use the breaks this time. You’re speeding and speeding the sled is tipping and you can no longer grip the handlebar and you’re down in the snow. You remember what Marine said before you set off: “If you fall off the sled, the dogs won’t wait for you. Run!”
You run and run until you catch up with the dogs. You run until you’re laughing your frozen lungs off because this is fun. Twenty-two kilometers later, and you’re back at the truck sharing tea and cinnamon buns with your new friends. As you head back to the cabin, and as you go inside to take off your boots, Nola whispers something in your ear.
She says, “I’ll never forget your name.” You look into her eyes, which are the colour of the northern sky, and you say, sincerely, “You too.” Then Nola replies, “I’ll remember because of Frozen!”
You laugh. And you say to the creators at Disney, to this beautiful place, to this day and to yourself, “Thank you.”