Outdoor Club sleds into spring

Posted on Apr 3 2013 - 8:03pm by Pete Porter

Ole Miss Outdoors strayed far from the ordinary Spring Break destination as they headed north of the border to Canada for a three-day dog-sledding trip.

Ole Miss Outdoors spent their Spring Break on a dog-sledding trip in Ontario, Canada.

The group is led by University of Mississippi students senior Spanish and environmental studies major Savannah Oliver and junior psychology major Katherine Westfall, along with sponsor and teaching assistant Tommy Willis.

Founded in 1999, OMOD is the newest area of campus recreation and features outdoor adventure trips as well as other recreational activities throughout the semester, particularly for freshmen.

“The club helps in transition stage of freshman year coming because the students feel a bit of connectedness,” Willis said.

“If a student feels connected, then it makes them want to be more involved in the university and therefore stay at the university.”

In keeping with this mission, the OMOD staff planned an alternative Spring Break trip for a group of students.

Instead of the typical sandy beach trip, the group took students to Canada to participate in a dog-sledding excursion.

The group of 11 students ranging in age from 21 to 60 drove for 24 hours to Ontario’s North Algonquin Park.

The group passed through Niagara Falls along the way to see some sights. After a bit of difficulty getting foreign exchange students through customs and across the border, the group arrived at Chocpaw Expeditions headquarters in South River, Ontario.

“It’s literally like something you would see on a postcard,” Westfall said. “It’s a frozen winter wonderland like you’d imagine.”

The students then recovered from their day-long road trip and stayed at the Chocpaw headquarters in a log cabin. There they were met by a personal chef who prepared Canadian-style meals, both traditional and vegetarian.

The next morning, the group was brought by the Chocpaw staff to a field dotted with kennels containing more than 300 dogs. After choosing six dogs to pull each sled, the students were trained for an hour by staff members on sledding commands.

After training, the club members were sent on their way for their three-day excursion. Willis said that not all of the dogs are huskies and the commands for the dogs are much different from what most people would think.

For example, there is no “mush” command.

The students agreed that dog-sledding was much more difficult than expected. Westfall suggested anyone interested in sledding should consider the intensive physical demand of the trip as well as the rough conditions.

“I wouldn’t go if you can’t run or put up with barking, pooing, or peeing on the part of the dogs,” Westfall said.

“You have to get off the sled and run up every hill, and if you don’t the dogs will quit running, stop, look back, and mean-mug you.”

The students carried full backpacks for the course of their journey.

However, after spending the first full day sledding carrying all of their equipment, the team unloaded the sleds and went on a “speed day” with minimal breaks. They then completed another full day of sledding before returning to the Chocpaw headquarters.

Shortly after returning the dogs and sleds, the students departed and made the return drive to Oxford.

The students, as well as teaching assistant Tommy Willis, said they enjoyed the hospitality of the Chocpaw employees as well as the people of Canada.

“The staff at Chocpaw was so kind and took care of our every need, they made it a truly welcoming atmosphere and such an enjoyable experience,” Willis said.

The Ole Miss Outdoors Club’s sledding trip is just one of three events already completed this semester.

The club went hang-gliding in Lookout Mountain, Ga., in February of this year and is set to take trips to SkyZone Trampoline Park in Memphis as well as to the Indoor and Outdoor Rock Climbing Center in Stone Summit, Ga.

Both of these trips, according to Willis, are anticipated to occur before the end of the semester.

More information can be found on the group’s website or in their office in the Turner Center.