The “ski” part of skijoring with dogs.
Believe it or not, I do have a couple of passions besides dogs. One happens to be nordic (cross country) skiing. In fact, it was the combination of dogs and nordic skiing…two of my favorite things… that got me going on skijoring to begin with. I love the smooth, rhythmic flow of classic or skate, the quiet of the backcountry and add to that the speed of the dogs and their companionship… it makes for truly magical experiences when it all comes together.
Teaching skijoring over the years I am always surprised how many people under estimate cross country skiing. Often students come to skijoring class with absolutely no experience on nordic skis, or it was “something they tried a long time ago…once”. Sure, if you have been alpine skiing, those skills will definately carry over into cross country. However, cross country skis often surprise students in that there is a learning curve to them, even if you are an alpine skier. This is especially true for light classic or skate skis.
In skijoring with dogs we can use any type of cross country skis: touring, telemark, classic or skate. The skinnier the ski, the more of a balance game it becomes. Moreover, the lighter and skinnier the ski, the lighter the boot as well, which also will test one’s balance. Hence it is a good idea to get on cross country skis and perhaps take a lesson before hooking up to your dog.
The benefits of learning to nordic ski before trying skijoring are numerous:
First and foremost, SAFETY, for you and your dog! In my years of teaching skiing I have unfortunately seen a couple of broken wrists from folks out for the first time on skinny skis; one little slip, hands fly up in the air, then down…and OUCH! Not to mention being able to stop quickly so that you do not run into your dog… or a tree. A dog can get injured from a skier running into them (especially with metal edged skis! ) and they can get spooked of skis and never want to get out in front of them again.
Second, your skiing skills and confidence on skis affect your dog. Dogs are closely tuned into our emotions. If you are nervous and tentative on your skis, your dog will feel this and will probably feel slightly anxious themselves. If your dog senses your uneasiness, they may even try to “protect” you against anything or anyone around at the time. Often people will be stressed on their skis, feeling out of control, and without meaning to, yell at their dogs, “stop pulling me!”. Think about that for a moment, and think about the idea of skijoring…dog pulling person while they are skiing. What is a poor dog to do? To pull or not to pull? What message is this dog getting?
Alternatively, if you are balanced, relaxed and confident on your skis, your dog will also relax and perform better. You will be ready and willing to move in synch with your dog pulling. The better nordic skier you become, the more efficient you will be, and your dog will be willing to pull you at faster speeds and for longer distances.
So set you and your dog up for success. Get on those skinny skis and even better yet, take a lesson or a refresher course before hooking up to your dog. Yes, nordic skiing is simple to learn, but it still has a learning curve! Plus, even if you have the basics down, you can always improve your technique and efficiency.
And trust me, your dog will love you for it!