Pathfinder Boundary Waters Dog Sledding & Cross Country Skiing

More than just an opportunity for skill development, this 30-day dog sledding and cross country skiing expedition develops a sense of confidence, independence and pride in your abilities.
An extraordinary winter adventure, this is your chance to gain leadership skills, define your values, be of service, strengthen the relationship with your family and—most important of all—discover what you are capable of. Travel over frozen lakes and rivers; learn how to manage teams of huskies; cross-country ski; navigate with a map and compass; check ice conditions; process firewood; and learn how to stay comfortable in potentially sub-zero temperatures. At the end of the course, participate in a facilitated family conversation where the entire family can gain insight into your experience and discuss how your newfound knowledge will transfer back to your daily lives.

Course Area

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota.
Over 10,000 years ago, continental-sized glaciers scraped their way across much of Ontario and northern Minnesota leaving deep ruts, ravines, and holes in their tracks. Eventually, as the glaciers melted, these ravines filled with water, creating a seemingly endless interconnected web of lakes and rivers.

In 1964, the United States designated over 1-million acres of this Northern Minnesota landscape as a protected wilderness area called the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Because no roads, power lines, or motorized craft may enter its borders, the BWCAW has remained relatively unchanged since the glaciers receded. The BWCAW extends nearly 150 miles along the Canadian border and encompasses more than 1,000 lakes and rivers. Over 1,200 miles of canoe routes lead to over 2,200 campsites and provide an unparalleled opportunity to canoe expedition.

In the winter, the BWCAW transforms into an even more severe and remote wilderness. While more difficult, winter enthusiasts’ travel over frozen lakes and rivers by dogsled, cross-country ski and snowshoe. Winter in the Boundary Waters is mesmerizing, peaceful, and exhilarating. It is a place of spectacular extremes, trackless snow, bracing cold air, glowing warm embers, and powerful silence.

Pathfinder Expeditions
Our Pathfinder expeditions are designed for young adults who are recent high school graduates, college students, or young adults seeking personal, educational, or professional direction. Throughout these 30-day expeditions, students focus on increasing self-knowledge, clarifying values, strengthening decision-making skills and processes, and setting goals – all life skills to help chart a path toward independence with confidence and passion.

  • Build core skills: Receive hands-on training on the skills and self-awareness you’ll need to tackle the challenges ahead. Your crew, comprised of individuals with diverse skill levels and backgrounds, will support you – and encourage you to try new approaches and explore new roles.
  • Practice Outward Bound values: Learn to incorporate Outward Bound values into everyday life by pushing your own limits and seeking challenge as an opportunity for personal growth.
  • Demonstrate mastery: As the course nears the end, students take on more leadership and decision-making responsibilities. Work together with your crew to apply new skills and achieve team goals during this final phase.
  • What you’ll learn: Return home with an action plan for the future and the confidence to make it happen. With newfound leadership potential, self-awareness, and problem-solving skills, you’ll be ready for your next big step.

Listed below are a few of the activities:

Dog Sledding & Skiing

The small town of Ely, Minnesota, where the Voyageur Outward Bound School is located, is known as the dogsledding capitol of the lower 48 states for good reason. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, one of the most historically significant and remote wilderness areas in North America, is located just outside Ely’s back door and as temperatures drop, winter transforms these historic canoe routes into beautiful, snow-covered environments ideal for winter travel.
During a Voyageur Outward Bound School Dogsledding and Skiing expedition, students travel over frozen lakes and rivers while learning how to manage teams of huskies, cross-country ski, navigate with a map and compass, check ice-conditions, process firewood, and generally stay comfortable in potentially sub-zero temperatures.

The group usually consists of 9 people, 7 students and 2 Instructors, and splits into two smaller groups each day. Half the group travels on cross-country skis and is responsible for breaking trail, navigating, scouting for hazards, and checking for safe ice conditions. The other half of the group follows on dogsleds, transporting most of the equipment, and food. Mushing is not a passenger sport and, depending on the snow conditions, often requires mushers to push the sled or run and walk along with the dogs. If the skiing group encounters particularly rough terrain or steep hills, they wait for the mushers to arrive and help maneuver the heavy dogsleds. Groups travel during the day and look for an appropriate camping spot each evening.

Family Conference

Outward Bound contacts parents at various times throughout the expedition to share updates about the group’s experience and how individual students are progressing. Towards the end of the course, after students have completed the expedition and returned to the basecamp, Instructors schedule 2 phone-calls with each family. The first call is between one Instructor and the student’s parents and is an opportunity for parents to learn more about their child’s Outward Bound experience, where he/she struggled and thrived, and how he/she is preparing to return home.

The second call is a conversation between the student and his/her parents facilitated by the Instructor. Outward Bound students often experience considerable growth and development in a short period of time during their expeditions. The Pathfinder phone conference is an effort to equip families with the tools and vocabulary to sustain this growth and forward momentum after the student leaves Outward Bound.


Weather and time permitting, an Outward Bound Solo experience provides an important break from the rigors of the expedition and gives students the opportunity to reflect on their Outward Bound experience. The duration of Solo depends on the course length and type as well as the competency and preparedness of the student group. Students on a 3-week course typically spend 2-nights on Solo while students on a 1-week course may spend one night or even just a few hours on Solo.

Regardless of Solo length, all students receive sufficient food, water, and shelter to keep them safe and healthy during Solo. Instructors choose Solo sites to offer as much solitude as possible while retaining some proximity to the whole group. While students spend the majority of their Solo time alone, Instructors do check on each student as often as needed, usually 1-4 times per day, to ensure that each student feels safe and comfortable. Instructors work with each student individually to structure a successful, unique Solo experience that meets their specific needs. Solo is purposefully scheduled near the end of the expedition so students have plenty of time to acclimate to their new environments beforehand.

Students often have mixed feelings leading up to Solo. Inevitably, students feel some nervousness and hesitation but are also excited to rest, reflect and test their new skills after spending many days in the wilderness. Students often find that Solo provokes profound and powerful learning in a short period of time and Solo often becomes one of the most memorable parts of their Outward Bound experience.

Some Outward Bound Family expeditions offer Duo experiences, rather than Solos, to allow parents and children to have a shared experience and deepen their relationships.


There will be many opportunities for service throughout course. Develop your service ethic with daily chores and group living. Also, give back to the people and the place where you travel. You may help homesteaders prepare for the season, help the BWCAW and work with the US Forest Service, help at the International Wolf Center, or help pass along your new skills by helping prepare dogsled equipment for the future or taking kids for their first dog sled ride.

Personal Challenge Event

We typically end our courses with a Personal Challenge Event (PCE), an individual final physical push. Time and weather permitting, you will finish your journey with a ski event. It is non competitive; you’ll set your own goals and work toward them. A final celebration completes your course. You’ll also experience an authentic wood-fired sauna and “polar plunge” in the river.
Please submit the Course Inquiry form or call (828) 239-2376 to discuss if this course is right for you.

Visit the Voyageur Outward Bound School frequently asked questions page to learn more about the application process, scholarships, what to expect, how to pack and where your course begins.

Upon enrollment on a Voyageur Outward Bound School course students receive a day-by-day course itinerary, detailed packing list, and detailed arrival and departure information specific to their course.

Scholarship Info

Our Scholarship Program is guided by a single principle: Every person should be given the opportunity to experience adventure and challenge, develop character and compassion, and learn leadership skills and service ethics, regardless of financial ability.

Moreover, we bring together diverse groups of students to instill cultural understanding and teamwork skills that enable them to become principled leaders.

Thanks to generous donations from alumni, parents, corporations, foundations, and others, Outward Bound awards up to $3.7 million in scholarships to 6,000 students each year.

The Voyageur Outward Bound School scholarship program is need-based and in order to be considered, applicants must first enroll on a course, pay a $500 deposit and check a box noting that they are interested in a Scholarship. The deposit payment is applied toward the total cost of the course and includes a $150 enrollment processing fee (usually non-refundable). After the applicant enrolls, a Course Advisor will send them a Scholarship Application along with the other enrollment materials. The applicant is required to submit a copy of their most recent 1040 tax return along with the completed Scholarship Application. The average scholarship is 15-30% off of the posted fee. If the applicant receives an Outward Bound scholarship but it’s not enough for them to participate, Outward Bound will refund their $500 deposit, including the $150 enrollment processing fee.

In some cases, applicants can schedule a payment plan with the Voyageur Outward Bound School rather than paying for the whole course in one lump sum. In cases of payment plans, final balances are due at least 90 days prior to the course-start.

Packing for a Voyageur Outward Bound School course

In general, Outward Bound provides sleeping bags, sleeping mats, rain gear, and all group cooking, camping and traveling equipment. Students need to provide their own clothing, footwear, toiletries and a few other items, like a headlamp and water bottle.

Traveling to and from the Voyageur Outward Bound School

MN Courses:  In most cases, but not all, Voyageur Outward Bound School students meet in the Duluth International Airport baggage claim at 1:00 PM on the first day of the course. Students typically return to the Duluth International Airport around 11:30 AM on the last day of the course and should plan to fly out any time after 1:00 PM to account for check-in and security clearance.

TX Courses:  In most cases, but not all, Voyageur Outward Bound School students arrive in El Paso, TX the day before their course officially begins.  Students spend the night in a local hotel (not included in course-cost) as directed by their Course Advisor. Students typically return to the El Paso International Airport around 1:00 PM on the last day of the course and should plan to fly out any time after 2:00 PM to account for check-in and security clearance.

Explicit travel directions will be shared with you after you enroll on a course.  Students should refrain from making travel plans prior to being approved for their course and receiving travel details for their specific course as the exact details may differ slightly from the directions listed above.

Please submit the Course Inquiry form or call (828) 239-2376 to discuss if this course is right for you.

Pathfinder Dog Sledding & Cross Country Skiing – 30 Days
Dates Days Age Tuition Course #
2.25.17 – 3.26.17 30 18-25 $5795 VMPD-761
2.17.18 – 3.18.18 30 18-25 $5795 VMPD-861

Spots fill quickly! Reserve a spot and speak with a Course Advisor.

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