Because sometimes playing fetch gets old.

By Alex Schechter
November 02, 2015
Ski joring
Credit: Ben Young

For skiers who can’t bear to be away from their pooches, Scandinavia has the answer: skijoring, a special kind of cross-country skiing in which the skier and their dog are connected by an eight-foot bungee lead.

The sport is also practiced in the U.S. at resorts and Nordic centers around the country. But with its wide, flat country trails, Colorado makes an ideal landing spot for first-timers. We asked instructor Louisa Morrissey, who offers classes at Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, Colorado, and Frisco Nordic Center in Frisco, Colorado, to tell us more about this strange-sounding but ultimately pet-friendly winter activity.

So...skijoring! What’s it about?

The sport has its roots in Scandinavia—it’s huge there, and it’s been going on for centuries. A lot of the international races happen in that part of Europe, though some are in the U.S., in Colorado in particular.

Ski joring
Credit: Ben Young

How is it different from dogsledding?

With dogsledding, dogs provide the momentum, but in skijoring, the labor is split 50-50.

Can anyone do it?

Of course! It’s a pretty simple sport to learn, and it’s really natural for the dog. By the end of the first two-hour lesson, everyone usually gets the hang of it. Primarily it’s about encouraging the dog and teaching the dog to pull, when to stop, and how to pass distractions.

You have to BYOD, I’m assuming?

Yes, we’re very clear that you have to bring your own dog. If someone shows up without a dog, it’s kind of too bad. According to the traditional guidelines, any dog that’s over 30 pounds and in good health is eligible. Obviously, a really small dog with a large person is not a good match. The same goes for a person who doesn’t know how to cross-country ski, and is hooked to a big, powerful dog.

Do you need to be an experienced skier?

I urge people to get on cross-country skis ahead of time, and have some level of competence. Someone who’s never cross-country skied before can get a nasty surprise: the skis are narrower than downhill skis, and require a different type of balance.

Ski joring
Credit: Ben Young

How does a typical class begin?

We start inside, going over the basics: how to take care of dogs’ paw pads in the snow, when to water and feed your dog (at least two hours before exercise), and general snow safety.

And then it’s off to the races?

Once we get outside, I tell the humans to take it at the dog’s pace. Use lots of encouraging words; keep it positive and fun. Remember: the dog is learning as much as you are.

What are the commands?

“Ho” or “whoa” means stop. To go, you say “let’s go” or “hike,” but you also have to move to get the dog motivated. Never say “mush.”

And dogs like this?

Yes! Lots of dogs become sedentary in the winter because they get left at home. This is a great way to spend time with your dog, and exercise together.

Sounds like a lot of fun.

Everyone has a smile at the end of the day. Students often come back to class, even though they know the technique, just because they like being here. I’ve seen some really beautiful teams out there; sometimes the connection is already there, and sometimes it’s formed on the snow. It’s good for bonding.