Who is the musher, the husky sled driver
The figure of the husky team driver, between legend and reality
There’s no sleddog without a musher: if you have never heard this term, you have probably never had anything to do directly with sleddog, let alone the experience of driving a husky sled in the snow. Because that’s exactly what a musher does: let’s find out in detail.
Musher and sled dogs
The musher is the driver of a team of sled dogs, Nordic-bred dogs selected for this purpose and naturally inclined to cover long distances in climatic conditions adverse to humans, but favourable to their nature and temperament (discover existing sled dog breeds). The term ‘musher’ derives from the English word ‘mush‘, which in turn takes the French-Canadian expression ‘marche’. Today, the term “mush” is no longer used as a vocal command given to the dogs but describes the action of leading the team of sled dogs.
In this sense, the musher is not simply the one who travels on the sled, but a real driver: he stands, with his wide legs resting on the sled’s skids, and commands the sled dog team’s gait by means of a series of specific voice commands, which the animals recognise and according to which they adapt their behaviour and pace.
Famous mushers and how to become a musher
The origins of sleddog, which date back to ancient times and tend to border on legend, have contributed to making the musher a kind of mythological figure. In the frozen lands of the Great North and during the Gold Rush period, dog sleds were often the only viable means of transport for moving from one country to another, but also for delivering mail and goods, as the story of Balto from 1925 reminds us. In such contexts, the mushers were men capable of feats on the human limit, challenging prohibitive weather and environmental conditions in the company of their huskies.
Among the most famous musher figures enshrined in the collective imagination are, for example, Scotty Allan, the Scottish-born American considered to be the first true professional musher in history, who inspired Jack London for the protagonist of the novel The Call of the Wild, and Leonhard Seppala, the musher who took part in the so-called ‘Serum Run‘ – the relay race of sledges and husky teams that transported anti- diphtheria drugs to Nome in 1925 – completing 91 miles alone, more than twice as far as all his colleagues.
Today, the role of the mushers is celebrated at the most important sleddog races and competitions around the world, first and foremost the mythical Iditarod, but their commitment and passion are always fundamental: it is they who take care of the training and welfare of the sled dogs, animals with a nature devoted to running, competition and loyalty to their owners, throughout the year.
Here at the Husky Village everyone has the chance to become a musher for a day, taking part in a sleddog experience in Valtellina during the entire winter season: drive a sled pulled by huskies along a snowy route through the woods of the Alps to experience the thrill of a nature excursion in the company of these wonderful animals.