Judy Falsnes wasn’t sure precisely where Inuvik was located when her future husband invited her to come for a visit. All she knew was that it was a long way from her home in Tennessee, “somewhere up there” – and that was enough to feed her sense of adventure.
During her fist trip, she drove along the Dempster Highway and hiked in the area. “I never liked wildflowers until I got there“, she confesses. “I did my first hike in the Richardson Mountains and saw these delicate flowers, and birds nesting on the tundra and Dall’s sheep running around and grizzly bears.”
Judi moved to Inuvik a year later, in 1985, and married Olav - and the Western Arctic. “I have an addiction to this place“, she says. “I realize it again and again through the eyes of the people I’m taking out there. I want to open their eyes to the beauty of the North.” From accommodations to car rentals and packaged tours, the couple has created one-stop shopping for guests. They started a car rental business in the early 1990s. Then they bought property with some log houses that they renovated. “We want to make sure we have the same amenities as a hotel.“ They launched Arctic Chalet Bed & Breakfast in 1995.
Next came dog sledding. Judi didn’t know anything about the sport at the time, but she had five pure white huskies from Colville Lake and she felt they would learn together. “I didn’t know the sled needed a brake and snow hook,” she recalls. She had no idea what a brake even looked like until a neighbour showed her. “It was a fun adventure, but the first year was hard because none of (the dogs) knew what they were doing and I didn’t know what I was doing.“ But they learned, and her kennel has grown to include 34 dogs. Guests can now enjoy one-hour to multi-day dogsledding tours.
The couple also offers Arctic adventure tour packages that include accommodations, meals, guided tours, courtesy vehicle and flights to Inuvik from either Whitehorse or Edmonton. Offerings include road trips by van on the Dempster Highway, ice road trips and hiking trips. “I like taking people on an adventure that’s out of the ordinary.”
She loves the open spaces and the fact that Inuvik is the hub for four ecosystems: delta with ponds, lakes and rivers; tundra and barrenland; Beaufort Sea coast; and the Richardson Mountains. “I was born in Switzerland - the Richardson Mountains are the most beautiful place to hike. It’s remote and you aren’t in the trees for three days before you get to the alpine zone.”
Judi relives the sense of awe of her first visit to Inuvik whenever she guides visitors. “I’m suddenly in their position because that’s how I felt when I first came up.“