Mark and Samantha Schurke live an unusual life, even by guides’ standards. The couple, originally from the Midwest, owns and operates a dog sledding business in Bigfork, Montana.
Mark was first introduced to dog sledding by his uncle Paul Schurke, an Arctic explorer who owns a dog sledding operation in northern Minnesota. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in Parks Recreation and Tourism from Michigan State, Mark spent several seasons guiding for his uncle in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Now, he and his wife Samantha have 17 Inuit Sled Dogs of their own, and their company, Base Camp Bigfork, has been in business since 2007.
Types of Experiences and Trips Provided
- Montana Dog Sledding- Rediscover winter as you mush your own team of Inuit Sled Dogs.
- Cross Country Ski & Snowshoe Rentals- Explore the winter landscape on your own two feet.
- Dog Carting- Experience the excitement of running dogs in the off season.
- Stand Up Paddle Board Rentals- Enjoy the water from a different view.
- Kayak Rentals- Get off the shore and explore.
- Mountain Bike Rentals- Terrain for all abilities and the gear to get you there.
Local Knowledge & Certifications/Training
The Schurkes intentionally operate at a smaller scale so that they can provide quality lives for their dogs. Mark goes on to explain:
"I think everybody would agree that the dogs should have some level of love and affection, human interaction, and obviously exercise. All those things – exercise, attention, a purpose, challenge – are mostly similar to the needs that humans have. You know, like a warm place to sleep. I have all that straw stacked up so we can put in fresh bedding. People are in our dog yard every day all winter long."
In addition to caring for their dogs each day, Mark and Samantha demonstrate a deep respect for the Inuit Dog breed in general by preserving them as a working breed. “The Inuit people are dependent on this breed for subsistence living up in the Arctic, and they’re the breed that Arctic explorers would use to discover the North and South poles,” Mark describes. “So they’ve got this huge history that goes back thousands of years, yet very few people have ever heard of Inuit dogs because they’re very rare.”
As a working breed, Inuit Dogs are generally more wild, pack-oriented, and “wolf-like” than typical domestic dogs, which can sometimes present challenges for their owners. However, Mark explains how they can be caretakers of the breed by not breeding the dogs for profit or dog show ribbons. He also takes great pride in the fact that they do not chain their dogs up. “It takes a lot more work to run a dog yard like that,” he says, “but it’s a lot more fun too.”
In addition to the dog sledding tours, Base Camp Bigfork offers visitors summer rentals such as kayaks, mountain bikes, and the like. All of the experiences offered at Base Camp Bigfork are non-motorized, which greatly reduces their impact on the environment.
Community involvement is a priority for the owners of Base Camp Bigfork, and they make an effort to donate gift certificates to local charitable causes, buy local materials and products whenever possible, and support access to public lands, both for the sake of their business and for the good of the community as a whole.
Favorite Trip Story
Mark also believes that by sharing his love of the outdoors with visitors, these people will become advocates for these special places as well. Luckily, he seems to have no problem summoning this passion for his work and the outdoors every day he goes out on a dogsled tour. “I love every day getting out and taking people, showing them around and sharing my enthusiasm for this area,” he says. “Dog sledding may not be as extreme as say skydiving, but that concept of people who really don’t know what they’re getting into and you’re seeing that first-time experience for them where it’s like, ‘Boom, off we go!’ The barking and chaos has ended and now it becomes silent. You’re looking up at their faces and they’re just kind of blown away. It’s a cool thing, reliving that experience through people on every trip.”