With snow on the ground, ski resorts opening, and the days getting colder, my thoughts turn to winter adventures in the snow. As much as I love snow, it can still be hard to psych myself up to go outside when it’s a blustery cold day. The thought of sitting by the fire sipping a cup of cocoa and reading a good book sounds so more inviting. But our two dogs, Simon and Shawnee don’t feel the same way. As “mountain” dogs, they are blessed with thick coats of fur. It seems the colder and snowier it gets, the more energized they get, and nothing excites them more than a romp in the snow. Having a dog is sort of a blessing in winter, in that it gets me out of the house when I’m feeling lazy. As I gather up all my hats and gloves and coats, the dogs are standing by the door leaping up and down like Energizer bunnies, raring to go.
One of my favorite activities I like to engage with my dogs during winter is cross-country skiing. But my challenge is always how to keep them safe from wildlife, and also to comply with leash regulations that local parks and/or nordic ski centers enforce for their ski trails. Nordic skiing requires the use of poles and frankly, often keeps me upright while traversing through the woods. Trying to hold on to a leash and keep the dogs from pulling me hither and yon while skiing is a conundrum.
Enter the sport of skijoring. I first heard of skijoring while living in Lake Tahoe, when a local nordic center offered classes in it. What the heck is is skijoring? Skijroing is essentially hooking up an animal (horse or dog) with a tow rope to a skier who wears a harness. The animals pulls the human skier across the snow. Skijoring started in Scandinavia as a way for an animal to pull someone on cross-country skis. Skijoring in fact was a demonstration sport in the 1928 Olympics, where horses were pulling a skier around a course. Skijoring competitions with horses still take place in Colorado in both Leadville and Silverton, Colorado.
But skijoring in the U.S. is now more commonly associated with dogs, probably because a lot more people own dogs than horses and a lot of parks and nordic touring centers allow people to ski with their dogs. Despite what you might think, skijoring does not require a super large dog, just one who is active and likes to run. A dog that is 35 pounds or more should be able to pull just fine. Skijoring doesn’t require a lot of expense either. You just basically need a hip harness for the person, a dog harness for the dog and skijoring rope to connect you. Skijoring ropes are sort of like giant bungee cords that have some springiness to them so as they dog moves, so not every little jerk is transmitted to the skier.
Many companies will sell you the entire set up, including hip harness, tow rope, and even a dog harness. Tow ropes are sold both as a single attachment and a double where it can be hooked to two dogs. We ordered ours from Howling Dog Alaska and it has worked very well. The surprising thing is it doesn’t take much to teach your dogs to “mush” or “go”. Most dogs seem to know what to do instinctively. However, for those who are interested, there are many resorts that put on skijoring workshops to teach newbies the specifics of this unique winter sport.
Skijoring is a great way to get me and my fuzzy four-legged friends out to enjoy all that the Rocky Mountains have to offer all winter long.