Known as the dog whisperer amongst the locals, musher Richard Karlsson enjoys a very special connection with his huskies. In fact Richard is very special altogether! We caught up with the former chef to find out more about his passion for his dogs, storytelling and the great outdoors. Richard is 41, a dad of two, and lives in Sörbyn in Swedish Lapland. He owns Isdimma Husky Adventures.
1. How would you describe your job?
I am a musher, guide and storyteller of the North.
2. What does your job entail?
I guide clients from all over the world with my dog teams, travelling throughout Swedish Lapland and telling food stories about the region. This also includes guiding people along their own individual journey, helping to find themselves, which I find really rewarding. We live in such a beautiful world and to add purpose is wonderful.
3. How did you get started in this role?
I never really thought about going into the tourism business with my dogs, rather than just spending time on the long trails with them. However, I was persuaded to by some friends and I started offering dog sledding tours in 2012, so have been guiding for about five years now.
4. What is the best bit about your job?
Definitely to do what I love the most. It’s not a job, but a lifestyle. I always tell the clients that they are not customers; they are friends spending a day in a musher’s life. I love the feeling of instilling deep impressions in humans and watching how they transform by being in the presence of nature, dogs and genuine stories. I also love to give my version of life to people, not only offering them Isdimma Siberian huskies, but allowing them to be at one with the destination by experiencing something extremely real and profound.
5. What does a typical day look like?
I wake up around 5.30am, get dressed and prepare soup for the dogs. I also make sure everything is ready for the day including equipment and food. Then I go out to the dogs, kneel quickly before them and give them a moment of morning praise. I serve them hot soup and talk to them while scooping the poop. This is a really important ritual for socialising helps to create an even deeper connection between us. Afterwards I go down to the dog sleds, make sure they are intact and in good order before placing them in position in the direction in which we are headed. I go back up to the house and barn, bringing out more food to be defrosted, chop it an put it into buckets. I manage to drink a herbal tea and prepare food for the day before the guests arrive for the day’s tour at 10am.
6. How many dogs do you own?
Where do they live/sleep? I own 24 pure breed Siberian huskies, They live in huge kennels with dog houses and platforms. The Siberian husky prefer to live outdoors, but every spring and summer I have one or two dogs in my house every day.
7. What makes huskies so suited to dog sledding?
They are the sturdiest breed in the world and can endure 55 degrees below, performing unhesitatingly in any conditions. They love to have a strong leader and spending time on the trails, so much so that they get sad every time we arrive home after a really long run. Their story is about snow blizzards and ice fog, the arctic adventure runs through their veins and their strong heart has a warm work ethic beyond our imagination.
8. When did you get your first dog?
I got my first Siberian in the summer of 2007. His name is Rittak, a huge white arctic wolf and a special boy. He is rubbish at pulling the sled because he wasn’t introduced properly at young age, but he follows me on short tours and loves to pull uphill. He is like a tractor.
9. People call you the ‘dog whisperer’. Why is this?
I don´t know exactly. I seem to attract an understanding in humans that I do something good with my pack. People recognise that I invest an incredible amount of time with them both individually and as a group of dogs. It’s all about time and dedication really. My bond to the dogs goes very deep.
10. Who are your tours suitable for?
I take people from all over the world, but mainly the UK. Many are conscious of what I am doing in a remote area of Swedish Lapland and want to be part of the Isdimma story. My dog sledding tours are suitable for everyone, but they are ideal for families or elderly people because the dogs are very calm and affectionate, preferring harmony and balance. They have grown up with my children and are extremely friendly. I have also taken a couple of people on a tour who have had a phobia of dogs and have been completely cured afterwards.
11. Do you have any really memorable tours that stick in your mind?
Yes. I had a guest from Australia in December who had some problem with the balance. He was running a small team and kept on falling. I helped him up and after a while he had this disappointment in his eyes, almost ashamed. He looked at me and asked: "So is that it? Am I sitting now?" I told him "NO!! From now on you will be standing all the time. You are going to make it and have the time of your life!” He got back on the runners and never fell again. He cried upon arrival to the kennels and told me that it was the best experience of his whole life. He couldn’t stop thanking me for encouraging him to continue. That was the best moment I’ve ever had as a guide.
12. When is the best time to go dog sledding?
Mid-December to late March. I just wish we had more months in the year in which to show off our Arctic winters.
13. What do you do during the summer months?
Obedience training, kennel maintenance, spending time outdoors with and without the dogs and warming up before fall training in August.
14. What would you be doing if you weren’t running guided dog-sledding tours?
Creating a new story about food in northernmost Sweden, writing and painting.
You can join Richard on one of his tours in Swedish Lapland - Sörbyn Lodge in Swedish Lapland.