The first snowfall of the year holds a special magic for me. Strapping on a pair of cross-country skis and setting off through snow-covered fields reminds me of stories of the early Arctic and Antarctic explorers mushing and skiing along with their dogs to the North and South Poles.
As a boy, I read a story of skiing with dogs, and it piqued my interest. I grabbed one of our Siberian Huskies, put on my skis, wrapped the lead around my waist, and set off on a trek through the neighborhood. I’d like to write that my dog and I gracefully flew through the fields, but instead I only flew a couple of feet forward and did a face plant in the snow. I quickly learned that skiing with a dog takes practice. Eventually, through trial and error, we learned to ski as a team and it remains one of my most cherished childhood memories.
Skiing along and being pulled by your dog, also known as skijoring, is a great way for you both to stay active during the winter months. The outings can be short, simple jaunts through local parks, or skiing vacations at Nordic ski resorts.
Any dog who weighs more than 30 pounds and can tolerate cold weather can learn to skijor — not just a Husky. As with any new physical activity, take your dog to your veterinarian to ensure that she is in good health before beginning.
If you already own cross-country ski equipment, the only additional gear required is a skijor belt, tugline, and harness for your dog. The tugline, about 8 to 12 feet long, connects you to your dog’s harness. A quick-release snap between the tugline and waist belt allows you to easily disconnect yourself from your dog if you take a tumble.
Depending on the snow conditions and the amount of hair on the bottom of your dog’s paws, she may need a pair of dog booties. These prevent snow buildup between the toes and protect her from frostbite and cut pads.
Many ski resorts that cater to cross-country skiers offer lessons in basic ski technique. Beginners should take several lessons without their dogs in order to become comfortable on skis. You’ll also need to teach your dog some basic skijoring commands for stop, go, left, right, and slow down. Practice training these commands on foot before putting on your skis.
Regional skijoring and cross-country skiing clubs throughout the country hold fun runs, as well as casual and competitive events for members.
With an emphasis on fun and teamwork, skijoring is great way to adventure out with your dog.
For more information, visit www.cross-countryski.com.
James W. Keldsen lives in Indiana, with his wife, children, and their eight Labrador Retrievers.