Strap my dog to me while I ski? Jack, my golden retriever and I both had doubts. Jack wiggled with excitement as I strapped him into a red harness, obviously feeling important with the new found job. With thin Rossignol Cross-Country Skis underfoot we took off into the white world.
Skijoring is an ancient sport that has been reinvented into a modern trend. Derived from the Scandinavian slopes skijoring literally means, “ski driving”. The sport is a partnership between skier and animal, and oftentimes more than one animal works in tandem. While I provided the power with skis and poles, Jack provided both enthusiasm and strength by joyfully pulling me.
The only tricky element was encouraging Jack to actually lead the way. In true golden retriever form he prefers to be right at my side. Jack and I were connected by two harnesses that linked together by a towline. A quick release function on the towline ensured our safety in the event of conflicting interests.
The key to skijoring is knowing that your dog is self-motivated and has an innate desire to run. Also your dog must have a clear understanding of basic voice commands. Today many breeds can participate in the sport of skijoring. However, athletic dogs with a desire to pull and run are prime skijoring partners, like Huskies or Malamutes.
Although Jack took some sniff breaks and we had one major rabbit distraction (yes, the quick release really does work) the experience was amazing. This is any snow dogs dream job. It is in essence the simplest form of sled dog racing – without the sled.
Do you have a dog? Give skijoring a try – but first make sure you have the groundwork for skijoring in place before you decide to strap skis on your feet. I recommend that you get your dog fitted for a harness and have them wear it around the house a few times. You should also make sure that the harness doesn’t rub, so your dog stays comfortable on the trails. The next step is to try out the equipment on dry ground. Jack and I took our harnesses running and practiced commands.
After you are fairly certain that you have a feel for the gear find a relatively flat, safe trail and pack lots of snacks (dog friendly ones too!). I made sure to avoid any trails that had snowmobile traffic and left the extra chaos of my poles at home. I adjusted the rope between us so that I was closer to jack, which in turn allowed for more control. It often takes two people to help train an uncertain dog. This requires one person out front encouraging the dog forward and the other maintaining tension on the harness. Treats, Treats, Treats.
Stop leaving your dog in the car in the resort parking lot and take him out on the trails! And if you’re feeling real gutsy, skijoring can also be led by a horse or a pony.