By Sue Madsen
Photo by Brett Baunton
Skijoring refers to the sport of running dogs (or horses) ahead of a musher on skis. The skier skis, assisting with poles, and the dog(s) pull. Simple? Not on your life.
Done right, skijoring can be a great introduction to “dog-powered” sports, provided one uses the correct equipment for both humans and dogs. Start with one or two dogs at most, using pulling harnesses and a specially designed belt or rock climbing harness for the skier. You’ll need your arms free to pole.
The skier should have at least a minimal knowledge of cross-country skiing, even if it is just the ability to comfortably balance on skis. The dog needs to be in good physical condition, willing to pull, and at least minimally trained to respond to the skier’s commands. Any breed can do it, and even smaller dogs can be used provided the skier is willing to provide power to assist.
The amount of training your dog needs will vary. Northern breeds take to pulling rapidly, other breeds may take a little longer to get the idea, and some dogs are simply not suited for or interested in the sport. It takes a lot of patience on the skier’s part, who must be willing to get tangled up, and fall down while trying to train his or her dog.
If you are interested in skijoring it helps to learn from experienced practitioners. The NWSDA (nwsda.org) has members who skijor and can act as mentors. REI also sometimes offers skijoring seminars, so check around. x