Oqaatsut is a North Greenland village with a direct view to icebergs in Disko Bay.
A pack of racing sled dogs speeds down the hill by command of their master. Suddenly, the driver shouts a few words and the dogs skid to a stop. The sled turns a sharp angle, kicking up puffs of snow and slides a quarter circle to a stop right in front of me. Awesome. My rally racer, or dog sled driver, has arrived.
29 year-old ‘Fari’Frederik Mathiassen actually does race, I soon find out. A fresh-faced freckled young man, he talks with a twinkle in his eye. Strands of ginger-toned hair peep out of his blue beanie, which he sets with racer style sunglasses upon his head. His look is completed with a well-worn grey anorak and polar bear fur overalls.
He tells me that the dogs are a bit tired because they joined a 33-kilometre dog sled race over the weekend, a qualification round to the national championships held in North Greenland.
“We came tenth,” he shrugs, suggesting better luck next time.
Fari’s fur overalls fit the snowy landscape. He bought them second-hand for only 2000 kroner, but one can pay up to 12,000 kroner for a new pair, he tells me. They are surprisingly warm and insulating for being so thin.
Growing up in the Ilulissat region, Fari was brought up around dogs since a very early age, and was given his first four adult dogs to raise when he was seven years old. He began to drive by himself at that age, too.
“The dogs were just outside our house where we lived. At that time dogs were allowed in the city, but now they have been moved out of the town.”
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Dog sledding was always a hobby, Fari tells me as we journey along the dog sled route from Ilulissat to Oqaatsut, a settlement with about forty people. The first part of the trip required more attention, but now he’s able to talk with me while his dogs drive in ‘auto gear’ in a more straightforward part of the route. He kicks his legs up on the sled, relaxes and looks backwards towards me. We talk about life in a mixture of English and Danish.
I ask him if he enjoyed school, and he responds that he finished gymnasium (high school) in Aasiaat (2004 – 2007), a smaller town just south of Ilulissat. His heart was always in dog sledding, though, so when he had a chance around 2010, he went into it professionally.
“Since I was young, I just knew that I should drive. My dad said to me many times that I should have an education. Still, I am from a fishing family, so I guess I’m following tradition.”
In a world where dog sledding reminds of days gone by, it’s unusual to see young dog mushers make a living out of this cultural tradition. He knows about five other guys in their twenties who also dog sled, he tells me. It’s expensive to feed the hounds, though, and time-consuming to train them. And with the introduction of the snowmobile, it’s no longer necessary to travel by dogsled around.
“When it’s the season, I go dog sledding nearly every day. Sometimes I take tourists out on trips, but I also fish and use my dogs to reach those destinations. And of course, I like to race,” Fari tells.
“It’s the world’s ultimate job to go dog sledding, but it also requires a lot of hard work, he says nodding.
“They (the dogs) are like my children. I have two real children and 19 other ones. When I tell my girlfriend that I have to look after my other children, she knows what I mean”, he says with a chuckle.