Arctic Thaw

Dog sled races link back to a centuries old tradition

by |April 11, 2010
Greenland sled dogs

Greenland sled dogs

One of the events that Thule looks forward to hosting each year is Armed Forces Day. The festival attracts several hundred people, both Inuit families and Air Force personnel. Held on the ice of North Star Bay, the events include broomstick hockey, snowmobile rides, helicopter rides, children’s craft activities and dog sled races. The dog sled races are extremely popular with Inuit drivers and their teams coming from all around northwestern Greenland for the 10 km races out past Mount Dundas and back. Greenland dogs are a large husky-like working dog, kept for sledding and hunting seals and polar bear. The dogs have a long history in Greenland, believed to have been brought to the country by the earliest Inuit settlers.

The ICE Bridge ‘gravity team’ (Kevin Charles, Eric Renaud and myself) decided that this was the perfect opportunity to visit Dundas village, a former Inuit village that we could see across the bay. We rented cross-country skis from the Community Center and just as the dog sled drivers were organizing their teams for the first of the races, we set off across the frozen bay on the two-mile trek to the village.

Dundas Village a trading post and mission established in 1910 by Knud Rasmussen

Dundas Village a trading post and mission established in 1910 by Knud Rasmussen

Skiing on ice with very thin snow cover turned out to be a lot trickier than skiing on snow, but we finally made it safely to the village. Dundas village is a collection of small European style houses that grew up near a trading post and mission established by Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen in 1910. An archeological site located ~ 500 m west of the village has yielded a few Norse artifacts as well as evidence of near continuous Inuit settlement since at least the fourteenth century. Although the inhabitants were relocated when Thule Air Force base was established in 1951, the village isn’t completely abandoned. A Greenland flag flew from a flagpole in the center of the village. Inuit hunters use it as a camp during the summer, and many of the dog sled drivers used it as their base for the weekend. We saw a number of young dogs, apparently not ready for the competition, staked on long leashes around the village. One building had large hunks of meat and bags of dog food tossed up on its roof.

Wolstenholme Fjord adjacent to North Star Bay and north of Thule

Wolstenholme Fjord adjacent to North Star Bay and north of Thule

Before setting off across the ice again, we walked up to the top of a ridge behind the village where we had a spectacular view of Wolstenholme Fjord which bounds the peninsula to the north.

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Sled dogs are an amazing animal. They are able to pull heavy loads for long distances at 20 mph in extreme conditions.
They seem to love what they do and are willing to do it day after day.


It seems incredible that something like a dog can pull a sled for so many hours in such conditions. How they can run for that long is pretty amazing and they are lovely dogs. My friends own two huskies and they are gorgeous animals though you could never ever let them off the leash – they’d never stop running.