Sled dogs have been pulling sleds for thousands of years. The purpose of the sled is to carry people and supplies over the snow. The traditional materials for sled construction included wood, bone, sinew, and rawhide. Steel bolts came later, and were followed by plastics, aluminum, and today, materials like Kevlar and carbon fiber. Regardless of the materials, all modern dog sleds have certain common characteristics.
Runners is the skis that slide along the snow and support the rest of the sled. Runners traditionally were made of wood or wood laminate, but aluminum and other composite materials are becoming popular.
Cargo Bed is the portion of the sled designed for carrying the load.
Sled Bags are placed on the cargo bed and serve as "backpacks" to hold and protect equipment, supplies and injures or dropped dogs.
Brushbow is the "bumper" of the sled that deflects trees and brush and takes hits in collisions.
Handle Bar is for a musher holding on the sled.
Footboards is usually made of rubber or some non-skid material, these are the narrow boards mounted on the ends of the runners where the musher stands.
Brake is an aluminum or steel bar in a U-shape. Two metal claws hang down from the bar. When the bar is stepped on, the claws dig into the snow to slow and stop the team.
Snow Hook is an anchor made of metal used to keep the team stopped. The hooks are angled so that continued pulling digs them deeper into the snow. This helps keep an excited dog team stopped.
Track or Drag is a rubber mat that is dragged between the runners. This is a second braking mechanism. The advantage of a drag is that the resistance it supplies is much more uniform than the resistance supplied by a regular claw brake. This is because the track drags over the top of the trail to slow the team while the claw brake digs into the trail. Many tracks contain bolts that stick about an inch into the trail to give them extra "bite."
Snubline is a rope that is used to secure the sled and team to a tree or other stable object. This is very handy when hooking up a dog team, or when stopping for extended periods. Most snublines also contain a quick-release snap, which eliminates the need to tie knots to secure the sled.
Two basic types of dog sleds are in use today. The older, more traditional version is the Basket Sled (shown below), which has a cargo bed (or basket) raised off the top of the runners by about 15 cm. The cargo bed is often made of wood slats that run parallel to the runners. The advantage to the basket sled was that the basket did not drag in the snow when the trail had fresh powder on it.
About thirty years ago, the Toboggan Sled was invented. As the name suggests, this type of sled is very similar to a toboggan used for sledding on hills. Rather than a raised cargo bed made of wood slats, the toboggan sled has a plastic sheet for a cargo bed, and the bed is attached directly to the top of the runners, not suspended above it. The advantages to the toboggan sled were that the cargo was lower, making the center of gravity lower, and the solid plastic bottom allowed the sled to "float" on top of deep, unpacked snow.
Towline (Gangline) Construction
The towline is the term given to the combination of the lines that are used to connect the dogs to the sled.
A towline has five major parts:
Mainline (Centerline) This is the central line that runs the length of the team from the leaders to the sled. This part of the towline is usually made of 3/8" or 1/2" thick rope and reinforced with steel cable.
Tugline This is the line that connects the dog's harness to the mainline.
Neckline This is the line that connects the dog's collar to the mainline. This line is important as a safety measure because it prevents a dog from going too far out to the side and potentially going the wrong way around a tree or obstacle in the trail. If a dog were to go the wrong way around an obstacle or tree, the snap on the neckline is designed to break away, allowing the musher time to react and stop the team and move the dog to the correct side of the obstacle.
Leader Lines The center line ends at the swing dogs' necklines. From there, two tuglines extend forward to connect the leaders. A neckline not attached to the rest of the towline is then used to connect the collars of the two lead dogs.
Shock Cord This is essentially a gigantic rubber band that is place between the sled and the rest of the towline. If the sled stops suddenly or hits a tree, the shock cord absorbs the impact and prevents the impact from jarring the dogs. A safety line accompanies the rubber band and acts as a stretch limiter.
Commonly, a towline is made up of sections that consist of a mainline with two tuglines and two corresponding necklines. Loops at both ends of the mainline are connected to similar sections. This allows a towline to be lengthened or shortened as needed, and allows for replacement of components without having to replace the entire towline.