Among all the urban mushing activities, skijoring is perhaps the most daring, and also one of the most traditional. Skijoring originated in Europe, and involves one to three dogs pulling a cross country skier. This activity is believed to have originated in the early 1900’s in Scandinavia, after gold-rushers returned from Alaska and adapted dog-sledding skills to everyday life. Skijoring competitions began to be held in Europe in the 1930’s.
Relatively little equipment is needed for skijoring: the skijorer and dog(s) both wear a specialized harness, and the two are connected by a length of rope. Skis must be wooden with no metal edging to ensure the safety of the dogs. Harnesses for the musher can be purchased at most outdoor retailers, such as REI, while dog harnesses are available at any store specializing in gear for working dogs.
Although most skijoring dogs are already trained as sled dogs, any dog with a love for running, pulling, and cold, snowy weather can participate in this sport. The most important aspect of training is to teach your dog to reliably listen to verbal cues, especially “stop.” Dogs should also be trained to halt automatically if the musher is not upright.
For individuals wishing to participate in skijoring, they should first be well acquainted with cross country skiing and comfortable on many types of terrain. Downhill ski skills are not necessary, but some enthusiasts believe that downhill skiing can better prepare a skijorer for traveling at higher speeds than are normally associated with cross country skiing. Although the musher will benefit from the pulling, he or she should still have the stamina to complete longer treks.
Skijoring is much more dangerous for the musher than for the dogs involved in pulling. Individuals can be easily harmed if the team does not halt if the skier falls, especially if multiple dogs are pulling. For inexperienced skiers, abrupt changes in terrain can also pose a challenge, and courses with significant downhill portions should only be attempted by seasoned skijorers.
A number of competitions exist across the world for skijoring. Most races range between 5k and 20k (3.1 and 12.4 miles, respectively). Longer races exist, as well, such as the Kalevala, in Russia, which is 440k long (270 miles). In the United States, skijor races can typically be found wherever sled dog races are being held. Although most races are organized by local organizations or enthusiasts, a number of international associations exist for sanctioned races. In the United States and Canada, the International Sled Dog Racing Association acts as the governing body for most competitions. For world-wide competition, the International Federation of Sleddog Sports is responsible for hosting World Championship races. Although skijoring originated in Europe, the sport is gaining popularity in the United States. In fact, the world’s largest event is held annually in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where more than 200 teams competed in the National Skijoring Championships at the 7k (5.6 miles) and 14k (11.2 miles) distances. Overall, skijoring is a wonderful activity for an avid skier who would like to incorporate his or her high-energy pet into the fun of a favorite hobby!