Spring may have sprung, but there is plenty of snow in the mountains (at least in Colorado), and that means there is still time to try a new snow sport, such as dog skijoring.
Dog what? Dog skijoring. It’s the combination of dog sledding and cross-country skiing that translates to “ski driving”, and is gaining popularity throughout the United States and around the world.
How to get started
First, you have to determine whether or not your dog would be a good fit and even be interested. I spoke with a couple dog trainers and skijorers and they both agree that your dog should be at least 35 lbs. and healthy, with most dogs that race weighing in around the 40-70 lb. range. While any dog that is motivated to pull would work, Huskies, Malamutes and Eurohounds are bred for mushing-type activities. It could also be ideal for the Lab or Pitbull that just never learned to walk nicely on leash!
One of the perks to getting into skijoring with your dog is that it takes minimal equipment. It helps if you already have the equipment to cross country ski (skis, poles, helmet) and then you will need a few things for your dog:
- A pulling harness for the dog – either a sled dog harness or you can have a custom harness made.
- A skijoring harness, waist belt, or rock climbing harness for the human.
- A tow line with a bungee.
- Possibly a coat and shoes for the dog, depending on the weather.
Most of the gear you need can be found at Alpine Outfitters.
Where to go
Another great reason to try skijoring is that you can do it anywhere where there is snow, either on groomed trails or in the backcountry. Be sure to have the appropriate skis for the type of snow you will be on and if you do go in the backcountry, be aware of possible avalanche risk.
Many states have skijorers that have agreed to be mentors to newbies, and there are clubs in some areas as well. If you really get into skijoring, you and your dog can compete in races, which usually range from 3-10 miles in distance.
Take it slow
Even though your dog may be really excited to get out there and go, unless your dog is used to running regularly, take it slow and build your dog’s endurance up, just like you would for a human.
Get your dog used to the harness as well, if that is new for him or her. You can start by hooking your dog up to the harness and line and going for a walk or run, teaching your dog that when the harness is on, he or she should be pulling ahead (you may need another person or dog to help with this). If your dog is nervous about pulling, trainer Victoria Baker suggests having your dog pull something (such as a log) on a line while you walk in front of him or her, encouraging your dog to pull.
According to Introduction to Dog Skijoring by Scott Dahlquist, make sure your dog gets a high quality diet, plenty of rest between workouts, and mix up the runs between slower and faster. Pay attention to your dog’s overall attitude, appetite, and gait to be on alert for injuries.
Advice from the pros
“Always remember that you’re in it to have fun. If you or the dog(s) aren’t having fun, take a step back and ask yourself why. Safety, safety, safety! Wear a helmet. Make sure your dogs are adequately conditioned for what you’re asking of them, protected from the terrain, and hydrated.” – Darby Maloney, Denver Dog Mushers in Denver, CO
“Know your dog. Don’t scare your pup if he’s not used to you chasing him down from behind. Know that this is a workout. You will need to be somewhat in-shape as well and you should know how to ski. At least don’t be afraid to fall. You will fall. This is not for the weak and weary. This is an adventure that only you and your dog will share.” – Victoria Baker, Furever Behavior in Winter Park, CO
Even if you don’t live in or near a place with snow, these are the same skills that can be used for scootering, skateboarding, biking, or canicross – so get out there!
For more information, Sled Dog Central has tons of great information.
Abbie Mood lives in Westminster, Colorado with her boyfriend, 3 dogs, 2 guinea pigs, and 1 rat. She’s been writing about travel, adventures, and environmental issues since 2009, and she’s been published in Washington Magazine, Matador Network (where I was also an editor), Bootsnall, Viator, and Outside Online.