Column: Here’s how to have a doggone good time with dogs and skiing

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 28, 2003

I was hoping that when this column is published, we’d have enough snow covering for enjoyable snowmobiling, skiing and sledding. Somehow, our snowstorms are going down South and out East instead.

Anyway, the type of skiing I’m logically suggesting for this area is the level-land type called cross-country. This suggestion for cross-country skiing and the use of the word doggone in the column’s title have a connection which is part of a really different outdoor wintertime activity.

What I’m leading up to is something called skijoring. One publication says this word is Norwegian for &uot;ski driving.&uot; The prime principle of skijoring is using a dog, or even several dogs, to pull a person on skis across the snow.

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The Winter Issue 1999-2000 of the Oregon Outside magazine explains the basics of skijoring this way:

&uot;The concept is simple. Dogs wear a specially designed harness, akin to those used in sled dog racing, and their owners wear either a padded belt or even a rock climbing harness. The two (or more, depending on how many dogs are involved) are joined by a towline ranging between seven and 12 feet long.

&uot;On the human end the line features a fast-clip design allowing the skier to detach and overtake the dog or to avoid any unnecessary dragging should the two-legged component, well, falter. Towlines are typically outfitted with a shock-cord segment to lessen the impact during takeoff and to absorb some of the force if the skier is skating, striding or double-poling.

&uot;Skate or touring skis are recommended on groomed trails, while wider backcountry skis are easier for ungroomed terrain. … Additional gear for your animals can include fabric booties to keep snow from building up between pads and coats and belly blankets for warmth.&uot;

The article in the Oregon magazine suggests that dogs to be used to pull a person on skis should weigh at least 35 pounds. This firmly eliminates cute canines like Chihuahuas and all those toy breeds. The key factor is to train the dog to do the pulling and just to be patient. Maybe having a family member or friend going ahead of the dog to encourage the critter to follow along might be a good way to start the training.

Skijoring is very popular in the central Oregon area around Bend and at some other American skiing destinations. And, according to the Feb. 22-24, 2002, issue of USA Weekend, there’s an excellent connection with skijoring right here in Minnesota.

This USA Weekend article says that connection is a man named Fred Thompson who lives in Shoreview, a suburb on the north side of St. Paul. I have confirmed this fact with a recent visit to his Web site,

His Web site has a lot of information about this particular winter sport involving canines and skis. Also, Thompson seems to be the best source for equipment. His firm, Skijor Now, sells a beginner package, collars, lines, ski wax, dog food, harnesses, jackets (for the dogs), leashes, waxing accessories, quick release devices, booties (also for the dogs), belts, books and miscellaneous items. This firm has a toll-free number, 1-888-486-6824, which can be used for ordering merchandise and for obtaining more information.

To close off this topic, let’s realize that winter hopefully isn’t going to last much longer. Thus, the concept of having the dogs (the big ones, obviously) pulling something besides a person on skis could be extended into the other three seasons of the year. How about training the canines to pull a child’s wagon, or even a person on one of those little scooters?

Anyway, for now, skijoring can add a special touch to the dog days of winter.

Tribune feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.