Glaswegian filmmaker rides sled dogs across Canada in new BBC documentary ‘Snow Dogs’

Glaswegian wildlife film-make, Gordon Buchanan, took on the challenge of conquering the Candian Yukon - backed by seven sled dogs

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Glasgow-based wildlife film-maker Gordon Buchanan was in for some surprises with his latest documentary Snow Dogs, which is being shown on Sunday December 18 at 8pm on BBC Scotland and 9pm on BBC Two.

His venture was inspired by a book he read when he was 10 – Jack London’s Call of the Wild. Now 50, he was this year able to make his boyhood dream come true by taking a pack of seven huskies across the snowy wilderness of the Canadian Yukon. One surprise was the appearance of his troop of dogs.

Gordon said: “The Yukon has been so associated with dog-mushing for centuries now, that I thought the dogs would be clones of one another.

“But they were all completely different, some of them quite unlikely looking sled dogs. If you saw one of them tied to a lamppost in Glasgow, you might think it was a rescue dog.

“They were however all different personalities and I’d fallen in love with them all by the end of the trip.”

Another surprise for Gordon was the power of the dogs and the fact that he had to work with them as part of the team rather than the dogs work for him.

Gordon said: “I foolishly thought it was going to be easy, so the only practical preparation I did was take my own dog for a walk.

“But I soon discovered my dog sled were the Usain Bolts of the dog-mushing world – very fast and very powerful.”

In the film Snow Dogs, Gordon meets expert musher and owner of 29 loyal Alaskan huskies, Pierre-Luc Fortin. He is introduced to his seven sled dog team: Hero; Epic; Vicky; Lucky; Exy; Wookie; and charismatic pack leader Yukon. Despite Gordon’s eagerness to get acquainted, the dogs give him a cool welcome – they’re not going to make it easy for him. A complete novice, Gordon has just one day to practise before heading off on their journey, starting with an 11km run across a frozen lake.

Gordon Buchanan with sled dogs in Canada’s YukonGordon Buchanan with sled dogs in Canada’s Yukon
Gordon Buchanan with sled dogs in Canada’s Yukon

And he has a lot to learn if he is to survive the blizzards, tree stumps and endless branches that knock him off his sled. He also learns the hard way that there is a pecking order for feeding and sleeping arrangements – starting with Yukon the lead dog. Without the respect of Yukon he’ll never succeed in commanding the team.

The Call of the Wild inspired Gordon’s childhood love of wilderness, but it was of its time, portraying a brutal view of nature where sled dogs and nature were something to be conquered. Gordon begins to realise that this view was mistaken. Rather than dominating the dogs, he’ll only become a great musher by earning their trust, respect and love. The question is will this build a bond between them strong enough for him to take on the toughest challenge of his life - the treacherous Burn Run.

Gordon concludes: “Being here and having these dogs open up this world to me, I’m just so grateful to them. I have learned from them, they have guided me and they have let me join their gang…They have let me be part of their team.”

Snow Dogs, debuted on Sunday December 18 at 8pm on BBC Scotland and 9pm on BBC Two - it can be rewatched on BBC iPlayer.