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I have to admit that since we had winter until June this year, I more than welcomed nice weather staying into fall. But now the snow is here. The dogs seem to know first…sensing the weather from far away in the wind. They become excited and restless. When the first bit snow came and the yard was covered, they could hardly wait to bound out the door into the wonderful cold refreshing white room!
Waiting until there is adequate snow on the ground to skijor is important…even if one’s dogs can hardly wait. Catching a rock or dirt while flying behind your dogs can result in an immediate face plant…and risk injury at the beginning of the season…and no one wants that! But after a few snows, I decided to check out the Bakerville Road near Loveland ski area. The road was recently paved this summer as a recreation path and so the surface underneath the snow is smooth and rock free…providing if there is good coverage. And for the most part the road stays in the shade and holds the snow well.
We were not disappointed! Wonderful, deep cold light snow! We were off with a “Lets Go!” ReRun was lead dog today with Linus and Charlie partnered behind.
Placing dogs in a team is always an interesting decision. I have been watching the dogs as we have been biking with them through the summer and fall. Naturally ReRun sets a focused steady pace in front, Linus likes to “flank” and make big circles to the side, Charlie and Lucy like to follow. In the past, Linus has always been my lead dog, and he is a great one! But I have also noticed that when hooked up, ReRun prefers to be on his own and he seemed ready for a new role. He is steady and focused and knows his gees and haws pretty well…plus with Linus behind to guide, once Linus makes a move in the right direction, ReRun “gets it” in case he “forgot”. Plus I need a good dog to help Charlie, “learn the ropes” . I wondered if Linus would mind having ReRun in the lead, but he did not seem to mind one bit. His joy seems to be working together on the trail in the snow…no matter where he is.
Charlie is adapting to his new family and new team. He gains more confidence daily and is learning that the world is not such a scary place after all. Normally he likes to run behind us on the bikes, which makes for an awesome trail dog! I wondered how he would do pulling up front. And he and Linus do not necessarily like each other. They are tolerant, but I wouldn’t really say “like” to describe the relationship. Charlie is a dog with a definite “space bubble” around him. So I wondered how this arrangement was going to work and I was ready to change things around quickly if needed. At first he didn’t quite understand, but then began to run beside Linus. Linus was a steady teacher and the team fell into synch. Charlie learned today the pulling in front was good, and running right next to Linus was not so bad after all.
Lucy can still hardly wait to get her harness on. Once the harnesses come out, she is first in front ready to go! It is hard watching this much love and enthusiasm in an 11 year old dog that is going to be semi retired. How do you deny such heart? Yet balance the physical reality? She has started on Adequan for her hips with almost miraculous results, but I still do not want to injure or hurt her. So she now has the important role of “team manager”. Wearing her harness but not hooked into the line, she leads the team ahead down the trail, and on the downhills brings up the rear. Sometimes she falls behind these days, and it breaks my heart to see it happen. I slow the team down and wait for her to catch up. But unlike a human, Lucy has no self pity. She is happy to be out, happy to be running with us, happy in the snow.
Back in the truck, ReRun seemed to have a new calmness and assurance to him. Not quite the crazy, energetic, easily distracted goof ball I know. He was quietly proud and dignified. A new role for this boy? Charlie and Linus lay down together…not stiff bodied but relaxed. Lucy took the front seat with me and looked quite pleased. “We did a good job today didn’t we girl?” I said to her. She agreed.
And dogs do amaze me so. In human social interactions, moving someone from lead to wheel and trainer could result in resentment, pouting and anger. Linus accepted his new role without a blink. Linus reminds me that it isn’t about your status or place, its about the joy of the moment and the joy of just running in the snow. Lucy teaches me that it doesn’t matter if you fall behind sometimes, you are still there, still running…the fresh cold air, the sun, the sky, the freedom and the friendship.
The season has started well.
Taxi and Kady have been some of our skijor students this winter along with Mindy and her colleagues from the Vail Doggie Spa and Lodging. They are killing it! Mindy enjoys skijoring with Kady and Taxi Although Kady only has three legs, she pulls like a maniac and is a great dog…both on and off the trail. Both Taxi and Kady would love to find great forever homes. If anyone is interested, please contact Holly Walters at Vail Doggie Spa and Lodging.
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!