I adjust my headlamp. My frozen breath catches the light.
Two excited dogs are barking, shaking my truck. I lay my skis on the trail, pointing the tips toward the woods. I unload the dogs.
I snap the gangline on River and Belle’s harnesses, click my skis into their bindings and secure my poles. My dogs are quiet now; for a brief moment, they stand still at the end of their lines. Their legs are shaking with excitement, waiting for the command.
We’re off. River and Belle slam into their harnesses. The bungee line absorbs some of the jolt. I lean forward and kick off, skate skiing down the trail, propelled by two dogs into the night. Together, the dogs and I reach speeds of more than 30 km/h (about 19 mph).
This is skijoring.
This is what we live for!
Why I Skijor
I live in Canada, where there’s snow six months of the year. I have a pack of rescue dogs who, like me, are high energy. Skijoring is a great way to keep all of us exercised and happy. If we didn’t get out, we would go crazy from cabin fever.
I am an avid skier; my parents taught me to ski as soon as I was able to walk. Even with a few decades of skiing under my belt, however, skijoring offers me a challenge. My dogs push me to ski at a higher level than I would otherwise attempt. Well-trained skijoring dogs don’t want to take a break and aren’t tempted to sit and chat. They want to go!
That’s why I skijor. Try it out yourself and discover your own reasons. Following are some tips to help you on your way.
If you’re considering skijoring, take a realistic look at its two main components: you and your dog. You can, by the way, skijor with any breed of dog. It’s as common to see a house dog as a Husky bounding through the snow with a skier in tow.
Dogs should be at least 30 pounds and a year old, and in good health. Some smaller dogs certainly have the will, but small dogs come with small frames, and skijoring can put undue pressure on their bodies.
Before starting this sport, check in with your vet to be sure your dog’s up for it. Fitness matters for you, too. Take your own physical condition into account. Skijoring can be demanding on the knees and lower back.
If you’re new to skiing, look for a Nordic center and take a few crosscountry lessons. Two basic techniques are used when skiing behind a dog. Which one you use depends on the type of skijoring you intend to do.
Backcountry adventurers will run into deeper snow and the dog (or dogs) will help break the trail. This type of skijoring requires cross-country skis that are wide and have turned-up tips.
Is it speed you’re after? If so, you’ll be skiing on flat, wide, groomed trails using a technique called skate skiing, in which the tips of the skis are kept apart and the tails are kept together, getting the kick by alternately pushing off the skis’ inside edges, much like ice skating. Look for stiff, short skis with almost no turn-up at the front.
Don’t forget the ski wax! Using glide wax on your skis makes it easier to move over the snow. Remember to choose a wax that suits the conditions in which you’ll be skiing.
Another important skill: stopping. Here again, there are two main methods. First, the snowplow, in which you point the tips of your skis toward each other and dig down with your heels. The other quick way to stop is to fall down! Put your skis on and practice falling and getting up again before you attempt skijoring.
Skijoring, like any sport, has its dangers; people and dogs can get hurt. But a few simple safety tips and common sense go a long way toward keeping accidents to a minimum.
Warm up. Use a brisk walk with some quick turns to warm up and cool down.
Know your ability. Stick to trails that are the appropriate length and difficulty for both your and your dog’s skill levels.
Protect your melon. Simple: get a winter sports helmet that fits and wear it.
Brush up on obedience training. Sit, stay, come—your dog should have the basics of obedience down before you go out on the trails. A dog you can communicate with easily means a safer and more fun outing.