Got a big canine? This winter, train it in skijoring, a popular Scandinavian sport in which your dog pulls you along on crosscountry skis.
If you’ve ever been curious about sled-dog racing but don’t want to shell out the roughly $100,000 it costs to support a kennel of huskies year-round, good news: There’s another, far less costly sport you can try with your canine companions during the snowy months. Skijoring, which has existed in various forms around the world for centuries, involves one or more dogs pulling a rider on cross-country skis by an elastic cord attached to a harness. The pastime is popular in Scandinavia and the upper Midwest—Minnesota and Wisconsin, particularly—and is gaining notice in Colorado, thanks in part to advocates like Louisa Morrissey, who runs a dog-coaching center called High Country Dogs in Glenwood Springs.
Morrissey, a certified professional dog trainer (CPDT-KA), has been skijoring for 20 years and teaching the sport for 15. For those who want to get involved, there’s only one requirement, she says, other than owning a suitable dog: “It’s important that you’re comfortable on cross-country skis. You don’t need to be super-fast or super-advanced, but you do need to be comfortable with gliding and stopping.” As for dog requirements, it’s pretty flexible; most pups, so long as they’re in good health, can participate to some degree. “Traditionally, it’s been any dog over 30 pounds,” she notes, “but I’ve had Pomeranians in class. In that case, the human was probably doing 90 percent of the work, and the dog was just out running the track.” However the work is divided, the enjoyment—for owner and dog—is usually the same.
To start training your pup, the first step is to teach pulling—which, Morrissey says, often doesn’t come naturally. “A lot of dogs are taught to stay by their owner’s side. Some dogs will do it naturally, but it’s not intuitive to many. The owners just have to understand that their dogs need time to learn the task.” After that, it’s mostly about getting the owner comfortable with the idea of being pulled. Morrissey teaches a beginner workshop that covers equipment basics, dog care, and simple skijoring, as well as an advanced class that focuses on trickier maneuvering and a broader range of dog commands.
As for where to practice the sport, most Nordic trails will work—so long as they allow dogs. “It’s important to check with the Nordic centers to see if they have a dog-friendly trail,” Morrissey says. “Devil’s Thumb Ranch out in Tabernash has 15 kilometers of really nice dog trails.” After that, options for customizing the sport are flexible and completely up to the athlete. Says Morrissey, “You can do it on groomed trails or you can do it backcountry. You can do it on touring skis, backcountry skis, skating skis—whatever is appropriate for the terrain and speed you’re going.”
HIGH COUNTRY DOGS
Glenwood Springs 970.406.0158, skijornmore.com
THE GEAR YOU’LL NEED TO START
You’ll need one harness for you, plus one for your dog, a bungee towline, dog booties, and any extras to keep your pup comfortable.
Ruffwear “The Beacon” safety light, $25
Ruffware Omnijore joring system, $170
Ultra Paws Rugged Dog boots, $38
Ruffwear Cloud Chaser waterproof jacket, $80