How the seasons flow into each other
Surprisingly enough (or maybe not), our whole year revolves around having our dogs, equipent and guides ready for our winter client season. And yet each season is quite different and the activities we do with the dogs, varies with each.
One common denominator, however, is that as each year rolls into the next, we wonder how it is that we come to the start of winter with so many 'planned' projects outstanding. On an animal farm, the work is quite simply never done and we can never get as much done as we would want, in any given day.
Some years when the clients leave us, (the larger groups leave towards the end of March and individual tourists around the end of April) we can go straight into developmental training on sleighs in which we teach skills like passing, speed commands, overtaking etc. Pups are also normally introduced to running at this time - assuming that they are at least 6 months of age. It is nothing serious and they never get to run too far - it is just a chance for them to try out what they have been watching the grown-up dogs get so excited about, all season.
Occasionally, however, it is too warm at the end of the season to justify running the dogs when there isn't a specific need so we just look longingly at the perfect snowy trails (which may last even until the end of May!) and instead switch our heads to a summer training regime.
During the switch into summer mode and one-on-one training time with the dogs, we spend a lot of time on the computer, trying to capture knowledge about the performances of the dogs over the winter and planning a summer training regime to reflect their training needs (overcoming shyness, developing directional command knowledge, line-out ability etc).
This is also our time of year for building. Some years we tackle projects one by one. Others we try to put as many foundations into the ground 'ready' as possible so that we can continue and finish off the rest of the structures later in the season when the ground has already frozen again underneath us.
Autumn: September-October / November
This period transitions either abruptly or gradually (depending on the ambient temperatures), into autumn conditioning training since we don't switch to running before the temperatures drop below 5C. At some point during this time we make a switch from quads to sleighs - just depending on the conditions and the degree of snow vs ice since early season speeds are hard to control with the sleighs bounding along rough and ready tracks. The important thing for us at this point is to have built up proprioception within the dogs to reduce their risk of injuries inducing limping.
Meanwhile, the builders amongst us are lamenting the fact that the daylight hours are reducing by up to an hour, each week, and the ground is freezing around them as well as their hands, when working with hammers and nails.
And then the clients come. Some years we are quite busy already in November (when elsewhere in Scandinavia has no snow). Some years we are on a relatively easy schedule until mid December. At the same time, we are training a partially new crew of winter guides and ensuring that they know how to perform to the desired standards.
December is our crazy 'every safari under the sun, every day of the week' period and our yard is so full of drive-in tourists who pop in with or without booking ahead (please book ahead!) that we can seldom find space for our own cars. We start work most days around 6.30am and finish around mid-night. This is also the time of year when the British clients come to see Santa in Lapland for a day. Crazy though it may seem, the 8 or so days in December when we stand on a sleigh for up to 9 hours a day in temperatures down to -40C are some of the best days of the year for many. It is ultimate mass-market tourism and yet somehow it is still magical and enchanting. Canterbury is a really good company to book with, if you want to come and visit Lapland for a day.
This small infographic gives some insight into the kind of craziness that is December. (And this is an example of an easy year with just one 'Santa Tour' Daybreak company. Many years we have run two concurrent locations with the dogs.)
December is the time of year when we may run 6 different safaris in a day and have 19 different sleighs on the start line ready to head out on more than one safari, at once. At this time of year, we are stretched to our limits trying to complete all of our standard tasks (dog kitchen clean, thrice-weekly heat checks, kennel and fence checks etc) in addition to the full-on safari program.
In January we start to offer longer tours as soon as we have managed to open and consolidate (and mark) the trails. For the guides, this is a less hectic period since the rush to get things ready for safaris is always at the start of the day. The number of safaris running per day reduces as we move away from short tours with an ever changing number of clients to longer tours and fewer clients. There is time to catch up with things like dog check write-up, and to enjoy the sun which once more pokes its head above the horizon.
February - March
By February we are in the middle of what we call our multi-day client season although a group of shorter haired / older / younger dogs are still running the smaller tours. At this time we run up to three 2-day tours per week (which alternate between spending the nights in our farm kota or in our wilderness cabin at Palojoki) and either one 5-day or two 3-day safaris.
By the end of March, the larger client groups staying locally are starting to leave so our number of short safaris reduces until we are left with just the longest tours and the occassional walk-in client. Our last client safari of the season normally takes place during the first week of May but we are training hard, still, with the dogs, up until this time, to both give the summer guides some insight into what it is all about and to get rid of any bad habits that have developed amongst the dogs during the previous season.
At this point we are also planning what we can hope to achieve with the few short months of summer before the whole thing rolls around again!