Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a small child performing stunts on the back of a kicksled while a dog charges across a frozen lake?
It’s the last one. The next time you see a kid in a Superman pose sailing along behind a husky, you’ll know it’s the Kotulak family out for another ride.
Kaja and Brandon Kotulak moved to Yellowknife in 2011, have two children aged seven and nine, and keep their own dog team. They now also have a small business, Northbound Huskies, that helps to teach people kicksledding and skijoring – the art of skiing with your dog pulling you – and sells dog food.
But the Kotulak kids are the ones taking kicksledding to the next level.
In video clips promoted on Northbound Huskies’ Instagram, the young Kotulaks can be seen pulling stunts on kicksleds that might give other parents nightmares. Sometimes, the manoeuvres verge on becoming handstands on a moving sled.
“I got my kids out with me basically right after they were born,” said Kaja Kotulak in an interview last month.
“At first they were riding in the chariot, then they started sitting in the front of the sled, then they wanted to do it themselves. We gradually got them exposed to it and trained up.
“As you can tell, they’re very comfortable on it. Instead of just going for a ride and standing there, they started doing all these tricks.”
Kotulak was initially hesitant, but realized that her kids’ determination to will the sport of acrobatic kicksledding into being was keeping them active outdoors.
“If that keeps you coming and having fun, go for it,” she concluded.
“I honestly have never seen anyone do things like that on a sled. I think they invented it.”
Kotulak moved to Canada in 2008, initially on a six-month trip, and became involved with dog teams while volunteering with a musher in British Columbia.
When she and Brandon moved to Yellowknife three years later, she got a dog of her own and immediately began skijoring with him. As the family grew, so did the number of dogs, and she used kicksledding as a safer way to introduce her kids because “a lot can go wrong” with a larger dog team.
Northbound Huskies, her business, exists to share the family’s interest in being outdoors in winter with your dog. No, you don’t have to try the acrobatics part, which Kotulak says is “harder than it looks.”
“I like to take people out with their dogs and introduce them to kicksledding,” she said, “and show them how to safely do it.
“Getting people active and outside with their dogs is a big passion of mine.”