The first step is learning to ski. Read on…
Skijoring is skiing with the assistance of a dogs traction. I think many people confuse skijoring for a dog pulling someone on skis, but the matter of fact is it is teamwork and you have to ski. Therefore, the first thing you need to do is learn to ski.
You don’t need to be an expert skier but you need to have the ability to reasonably stand behind your dog and to assist your dog when necessary.
The majority (I’m not exaggerating) of people who approach me about skijoring do not ski, some don’t even own skis. If this is your case, I am not shaming you, I am pleased you are looking into an outdoor activity to enjoy with your dog and I want you to enjoy it, so I have to be honest with you: the first step is to be comfortable on cross country skis.
Being comfortable on skis is not just a matter of performance but it will make a world of difference in your dog’s (and yours) enjoyment of skijoring. If you want to skijor, the most important principal is your dog has to enjoy it.
Let me illustrate this for you, I’ll make up the story of Lucy and Luke.
Lucy is an outgoing girl, willing to try anything new, she’s the “go for it” type. Luke is her lively canine partner. Lucy asked around and got all the gear she needed: a belt, a line, a fitting harness for Luke and skate skis. She read a bit about introducing a dog to harness work and Luke understands he should be pulling when wearing his sled dog harness. Lucy is so proud of Luke, he’s such a willing dog. Now she’s super excited about trying skijoring. Larose Forest has the perfect trails, it’s well groomed and mostly flat. Lucy clips in her skis, attaches the line to Luke’s harness and off they go. They pick up speed fast, Luke is loving this!! That’s a bit much for Lucy and within the first 100m Lucy falls. There’s a bungee on the line but that’s still a brutal stop for Luke. Lucy laughs it off, Luke licks her face, he’s a little confused but all is good. It’s a bit of a challenge to get back up… oops, poles are tangled in the line… eventually they are ready to go again. Luke knows what he’s meant to do, he gets back on front and starts running again. Off they go. Lucy didn’t expect it was going to be so tricky, she feels so off balance and down she goes. An other jerk on Luke. This goes on a few times again, now Luke gently trots ahead, with quick stares back…. Lucy looks frustrated… Luke is stressed. She falls again… Luke doesn’t want to do this anymore, he trots on Lucie’s side. Lucy takes her skis off and walks back to the car.
They it again next weekend. The trail conditions are not quite as good and she falls even more. They walk back again. The next weekend Luke doesn’t really pull, he looks worried and unhappy.
Lucy really wanted to do this with Luke, and he was rather willing too. Unfortunately, because Lucy was not so comfortable on skis, Luke learned to dislike the harness and worry about skis.
I could have told you a similar story about a character that didn’t fall but couldn’t help his dog when snow conditions were more difficult. His dog loses its interest and willingness to pull as the effort to keep moving forward becomes too much of a chore.
If you want to skijor, you will need to learn to ski first! Don’t be discouraged, you don’t need to be an accomplished racer, you just need to assure you will have the abilities to keep this fun.
Ideally, you will learn to skate ski. Even at its slower pace, classic skiing will not offer sufficient power to help your dog along.
To learn to ski, you will need to spend some time on skis. I would recommend you invest in at least a lesson or two for some initial guidance. Ski lessons will be offered in cross country centers or by you local cross country club. You may want to ask at your local store for some recommendations.
You are perfectly stable on downhill skis? We don’t use downhill skis to skijor. The main reason is downhill skis have steel edges and steel edges can badly hurt a dog’s paw. Anyway, you are unlikely to make your share of the work with downhill skis and canine skijoring is team work.
All this said, you may have asked about “How do I start skijoring” but really should have asked “How do I start harness dog sports” because until you get comfortable on your skis, you can still canicross, bikejor and scooter. Off course this still leads to many other questions about the practice of harness dog sports and the best way to get your questions answered is to meet other harness dog sport adepts. https://mushlarose.ca/frequently-asked-questions/
I am also working on more posts with more answers to introduce as many possible outdoors dog lovers to the awesomeness of harness dog sports, so stay tuned.
Article by Murielle Ovenden