Cold start in Sweden: a visit to the training camp for sled dogs

Michael Hess and two helpers with his dogs next to the Sprinter.

In the Swedish town of Flötningen/Idre, Michael Hess trains with his pack of Siberian Huskies for long-distance dog sled races. Always with him: a Sprinter 4×4.

Through the fantastic Swedish landscapes with the Sprinter 4×4

Seemingly endless snowfields and clear blue sky as far as the eye can see – the countryside between Idre and Flötningen in the Swedish province of Dalarnas Iän resembles a winter fairy tale for nine months of the year. This is where Michael Hess breeds and trains a pack of 12 dogs for long-distance dog sled races. The passionate sled driver needs a vehicle which not only offers plenty of space but can easily handle the extreme weather conditions at two digits below zero to safely transport the dogs and his equipment. That is why he chose the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4. “The combination of the engine, the spaciousness and the all-wheel drive was the deciding factor for me. I have never regretted the decision to this day”, says the pack leader.

Michael Hess gives the dogs on his sled commands.
The most common terms which sled drivers use to tell their dogs what to do:
  1. “Gee” means right
  2. “Haw” means left
  3. “Come Gee” means turning the sled 180° to the right
  4. “Come Haw” means turning the sled 180° to the left
  5. “Stop” or “Woa” means stop
  6. “Go” means forwards
  7. “Straight ahead” means run straight ahead.
Huskies as snowdogs running through the snow.

Animal and machine – an astonishing number of similarities

Michael Hess values one characteristic in particular among both his sled dogs and with his vehicle: reliability. Neither the dogs nor the Sprinter 4×4 have ever disappointed the pack leader in this respect. Yet the animals and the vehicle also have a surprising number of other aspects in common. Just like the Sprinter 4×4, the Siberian Huskies are optimally adapted to the conditions on the long distances in the Scandinavian cold. But both have to be optimally prepared for the conditions: The dogs need to be fed and trained, the Sprinter 4×4 maintained and refueled. To improve traction, the tires on the Sprinter are equipped with spikes, the dogs’ paws fitted with “booties”.

Michael Hess’ Sprinter 4x4 has the eyes of a Siberian Husky.

The combination of the engine, the spaciousness and the all-wheel drive was the deciding factor for me. I have never regretted the decision to this day.

The toughest dogsled races in the world

  1. Yukon Quest: The race runs around 1,600 km through Alaska and Canada and is regarded as one of the toughest races in the world.
  2. Iditarod: With the route running 1,850 kilometers it is the world’s longest dog sled race. In the race through Alaska the competitors may use teams of up to 16 dogs to tow their sleds.
  3. Finnmarksløpet: The northernmost dog sled race in the world takes place in Norway near North Cape.

The race is its own goal

However, the months of preparation and training pay off: In 2015 Michael Hess successfully competed in the Finnmarksløpet, the northernmost dog sled race in the world. This race is infamous because of the extreme climate conditions near North Cape and the very poor trail. Unlike 33 other competitors, Michael Hess successfully reached the destination with his dogs. In moments like these, training in the Swedish winter fairytale truly pays off.

Grey Mercedes-Benz Sprinter in a hangar

As the largest member of the Mercedes-Benz Vans family, the Sprinter has been leading the way since 1995. It’s features are continuously further developed to stay on top of the competition.