Dog gone

Skijoring lets Fido get in on the winter fun

Love your dog? Harness it up, and the two of you can enjoy winter together.

Love your dog? Harness it up, and the two of you can enjoy winter together.

Photo By Billie Callahan

If man’s best friend is welcome in parks, pubs and PetSmart, then why not on the ski slopes? Well, if you take up skijoring, dogs are part of the equation. Skijoring is a winter sport that’s a fabulous way to enjoy more time with your best pooch.

If you’ve never heard of skijoring, that’s not surprising. It’s been around for years in cold-hardy spots like Alaska and Scandinavia, but it’s just being discovered in many other areas. It’s kind of a mix between dog-sledding and cross-country skiing.

Basically, you just hitch up your dog with a special harness, step into your cross-country skis and head for the nearest cross-country trail. There are even skijoring competitions popping up around the country, including a few in Northern California not far from Reno.

The sport isn’t hard to get started in.

“It’s not hard to learn, but it does take some time and patience,” says Mike Callahan, president of Sierra Nevada Dog Drivers (SNDD) group, a dedicated group of sledding and skijoring enthusiasts. “Many dogs with sled dog pedigrees will still have to learn. It’s not always instinctive for a dog to pull. If you already have a trained leader, then the quick way to teach a pup is to hook him up with another lead dog.”

Skijoring may keep you and your dog in better health.

Photo By Billie Callahan

If you already own cross-country ski equipment, you’re well on your way to skijoring over hill and dale. Remember, though, it’s not a good idea to try to use downhill skis; they have edges that can cut your dog if you fall.

Besides your ski equipment, you’ll need to outfit your dog. First, buy a dog harness like those used in dog-sledding. Your dog should also have a “tug” line, which should include at least some bungee cord that will take up a bit of the shock of sudden stops and starts you’ll be making. Your dog should be at least 30 pounds to work in skijoring. Sorry, dachshunds and Chihuahuas are out for this sport.

Dotty Dennis, a board member of SNDD notes that people can get into this sport with only one or two dogs, while traditional sled teams use a lot more animals.

“You need to be a pretty good cross-country skier before you start, so work on your skiing skills before anything else,” she says.

Skijoring enthusiasts say one of the thrills is going fast. Once you and your dog (or dogs) cinch up, there’s very little effort involved. You skim across the snow like greased lightning, controlling your dogs with simple voice commands.

Who offers skijoring in the Lake Tahoe area? Kirkwood allows dogs on two of their cross-country trails—the High Trail and the Inner Loop. Many U.S. Forest Service trails are also open to dogs, including several trails at the Little Truckee Summit and other areas. Contact the Forest Service for details at (530) 265-4531. Trails on Mount Rose and the old Diamond Creek Cross-Country ski area are also popular.

Many experts say that you should invest in a clinic or two. Instructors will teach you control and finesse on the trails. More information is available from SNDD, which offers clinics and information for sled dog drivers and skijoring every year. You can reach them on the Web at, or visit a site that caters to Lake Tahoe trails and events,