Image by Bob Denaro via Flickr

Skijoring: The Complete Lowdown on This Exhilarating Winter Dog Sport

Looking to level-up your winter activity game? Allow us to introduce skijoring, a trending winter dog sport that’s one part sledding and one part cross country skiing. 

Intrigued?

Awesome! All you need is a snow-loving pup, some basic ski equipment, and an unflappable sense of adventure.

Whether you’re looking to blow off some competitive steam, or you just want to enjoy a leisurely trek through the wintry landscape with your dog, skijoring could be your new favorite hobby. 

Let’s see what this winter dog sport is all about.

What exactly is Skijoring?

Image by Bob Denaro via Flickr

Simply put, skijoring (pronounced skee-JOAR-ing) is cross country skiing with a twist. The sport takes things up a notch by adding a towing agent: namely, your eager, snow-loving pooch. Tethered to each other with special harnesses, canine and human participants whip through the stunning winter scenery at breakneck speed.

Unlike dog sledding, reins and whips are nowhere in sight (participants rely on verbal commands, instead). Skijoring is also considerably easier to pick up, making it the perfect starter activity for folks who want to dip their toes into the world of winter dog sports. 

For those of us in colder climates, keeping our dogs active during the winter can be a real challenge. Enter skijoring—the ultimate winter workout for canines and humans alike. This invigorating sport is an exciting way to boost your dog’s stamina and overall health. Plus, it’s a terrific way to bond with your dog while making some new friends along the way.

Why not make the most of winter by mastering an outdoor activity you’ll actually look forward to? 

A brief history of skijoring

While only recently popularized in the US, skijoring has been around for centuries in Scandinavia. 

This Nordic-style of mushing can be traced back to the 1850s, where it was used as a means to travel and exchange goods. That’s right—before becoming a recreational activity stateside, Norwegian skiers and their trusty dogs traversed the country’s snowy terrain to deliver fur pelts, mail, and other domestic necessities. 

While today’s skijorers no longer practice the sport to trade housewares, the activity remains hugely popular in Norway and across Europe.

Can my dog participate in skijoring?

Think skijoring is strictly reserved for hefty, giant breeds? Think again! While muscles certainly come in handy, pure enthusiasm and drive can usually compensate for a small (but mighty) dog. You’ll be helping add to the momentum with your skis and poles, after all.

For safety reasons, your dog should be in good physical condition and weigh a minimum of 35 pounds. If your dog meets the weight requirements and he’s fond of the snow, he could be an ideal candidate for skijoring.

Some hardy breeds that are natural-born skijorers include:

  • Siberian Huskies
  • Alaskan Malamutes
  • Great Danes
  • Labradors
  • Greyhounds
  • Border collies
  • Rhodesian Ridgebacks
  • Poodles
  • Bulldogs
  • Tibetan Mastiffs
  • German Shepherds
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Japanese Akitas
  • Dalmatians
  • Samoyeds
  • Norwegian Elkhounds

No sweat if you don’t see your dog on this list—canine participants vary widely and include a wonderful assortment of both purebreds and mutts. One thing they all have in common: a love for snow, running, and pulling. 

Naturally, there are certain canine features that boost a dog’s chance of success with this sport. Consider yourself ahead of the game if your pup has any of the following:

  • A thick, weatherproof coat to protect him from frigid temps
  • The ability to focus, even with throngs of people milling around
  • A keen desire to obey verbal commands
  • Disinterest with chasing prey (a strong prey drive can be problematic during a skijoring competition, as you might imagine.)

One minor caveat: If your dog doesn’t appear to enjoy this winter activity—don’t force it. His safety and comfort should always take precedence.

What type of equipment do I need for skijoring?

Image via Flickr

Thankfully, skijoring doesn’t require you to lay down bookoo bucks on new gear. You can buy equipment piecemeal, or, for the sake of simplicity, you can invest in a complete skijoring kit that includes everything you’ll need to get started. 

Not sure if you’re ready to invest in a new hobby that you (or your dog) may end up hating? No problem—many skijoring sites offer affordable rentals for newbies.

Here’s what you’ll need.

Harnesses

Look for skijoring-specific harnesses—for you and your dog. Skijoring with two dogs? You can purchase gear that connects their harnesses, allowing them to run in tandem.

Towline

You’ll also need an 8-10 foot tug line to tether yourself to your canine counterpart. Skijoring towlines are specially designed to minimize injury from any sudden yanking.

Skis

No need to break the bank here. Just a nice set of standard cross-country skis will do. Skip the metal-edged skis in case you collide with your dog—opt, instead, for classic waxless skis.

Winter Weather Clothing

Heat-retaining, wind-blocking clothing is a must. Undergarments should be made from moisture-wicking material. And don’t forget the waterproof boots!

Dog Jacket

This one’s optional, but if your dog isn’t blessed with an abundant weatherproof coat, a quality dog jacket isn’t a bad idea.

Paw Wax

Our dogs’ paws are designed to tolerate the cold, but they can only take so much stress. Paw wax or petroleum jelly provides an added layer of protection for your dog’s poor feet.

Where can I go skijoring?

Ready to hit the trails? Great! There’s no shortage of sites where you can join a skijoring competition or brush on some basics with skijoring lessons. If you’ve already got a willing canine participant and the necessary equipment, you can skijor basically anywhere that’s dog-friendly and suitable for cross-country skiing. 

If you’re located in the States, here are some skijoring sites you can hit up.

Wisconsin

  • Minocqua Winter Park
  • Justin Trails B&B Resort in Sparta
  • Chase’s Point
  • Chippewa Moraine State Recreation Area in New Auburn, WI
  • Indian Lake Country Park
  • Pike’s Creek and Jerry Jay Jolly Trails, both located in Bayfield, WI
  • Seeley Hills Trail in Hayward, WI
  • Interstate State Park in St. Croix Falls

If you’re gung-ho about racing, Wisconsin also hosts a bunch of winter events and skijoring competitions, including the Merrill Winterfest, the Madison Winter Festival, and the Barkie Birkie event in Haward, WI. 

Colorado

  • Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, CO 

Montana

  • Paws Up Resort in Greenough, MT

Minnesota

  • Three Rivers Park District in Plymouth, MN
  • Theodore Wirth Park offers group skijoring sessions every winter

Utah

  • North Fork Park in Liberty, UT

Alaska

  • Nome Creek Valley in Fairbanks, AK

New York

  • Winona Forest Recreation Association in Lacona, NY

New Hampshire

  • Gunstock Mountain Resort in Gilford, NH

California

  • Tahoe Donner in Truckee, CA

Some final tips for skijoring beginners

Image by Randi Hausken via Flickr

If you’re seriously considering skijoring, here are some tips to get you started.

  1. Make sure Fido can follow commands: Avoid language that you use every day. Some basics you’ll need to master include commands for “move faster,” “slow down,” “turn left” (or right), and of course, “stop!” This could take several months to master, so patience is key. 
  2. Start training before the snow hits: Ease your dog into skijoring gently by introducing him to the harness and equipment before you hit the trails. Make sure he’s comfortable wearing the harness to avoid a nervous reaction the day of his first race.
  3. Use positive reinforcement: Rewards-based training elicits far greater results than negative training methods, which can turn your dog off to learning. Use encouragement and praise to help your pup associate his harness with good, happy times. 
  4. Join a local skijoring club:  Learn some new skills, meet fellow dog lovers, and let your pooch do some socializing. 
  5. Keep training fun: Don’t lose sight of why you got into this in the first place—to have a good time! Remember to loosen up and enjoy yourself. Not only will this enhance your overall experience, it will encourage your dog to learn the sport more quickly.

If you’re looking for a way to break up the bleary days of winter, a new outdoor activity could be just what the doctor ordered. With some basic training and the right attitude, you and your pup could be headed for skijoring stardom!