Friday, February 6, 2009

Skijoring: A Day of Fun!

Anyone want to go skijoring?

For our third day at Winona Forest on the Tug Hill Plateau in New York, we decided to give our two oldest dogs, Zoe and T-Bone, the day off and head out skijoring with our three youngest dogs, Acadia, Okemo and Sobo. Skijoring is cross country skiing while a dog pulls you. It is an exhilarating and fast growing sport which combines cross country skiing and dog sledding. Originating in Scandanavia and literally meaning "ski driving" in Norwegian, skijoring (sometimes spelled "ski-joring") involves a dog and owner exercising together in partnership while enjoying the outdoors. Skijoring is not simply skiing while your dog runs alongside. It requires that your dog know all basic mushing commands including, gee, haw, line out, on by, and most importantly, whoa and it requires that you be a intermediate or better cross country skiier proficient especially in snow plowing and stopping. To read more about skijoring, you can visit the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures skijoring page and skijoring lessons page.

Eric with Okemo and Sobo practicing his snow plowing

Looking down the trail

Acadia and I skijoring

Okemo and I skijoring down Alice's Ally

For skijoring, the dog(s) wears a traditional dog sledding harness. We like x-back harnesses made by Dogbooties. The dog is connected to the skier by a line with an integrated bungee/shock absorber ranging in length from 7-13 feet. We make our own skijoring (and bikejoring, scootering, and canicross lines). The skier then wears a skijoring belt which the line connects to via a carabiner (we prefer screw gate or "locking" 'biners) and typically a panic snap. For skijoring belts we use our White Pine belts (we also use these belts for walking the dogs and for canicross). Some skijorers prefer "diaper" style belts that have legs loops that offer a lower center of gravity and tend not to ride up. Whatever belt you decide to use, it should be a minimum of 3 inches wide and padded. For more information on where to purchase gear visit the Resources page of the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures website.

Okemo and Sobo demonstrating a nice "line out."

After loading all of the dogs in the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures dog truck, we headed back to the CCC camp trail head at Winona (map of Winona).

We began by setting up the picket lines and dropping and harnessing the sled dogs.

Harnessing Acadia

Putting Acadia's belly band on while Zoe (green jacket) looks on

After dropping and harnessing the dogs, we re-loaded T-Bone and Zoe back into the truck (who immediately began throwing up a ruckus having now realized they were going to be left behind) and headed out onto Bargy. I had our pint sized puppy power, 8 month old Acadia and Eric had wheel dog, Okemo and lead dog, Sobo (aka the big boys). As we skied along, it was clear that the dogs were enjoying themselves immensely, especially Okemo. Indeed, Okemo surprised us with his aptitude for skijoring and his drive to go down the trail (note to self: try this dog out in lead with the team) although "whoa" is not a command that Okemo heeds well. Turning "gee" onto Frank's Fancy (for a list of commonly used dog sledding commands click here), Eric and I wound our way through gorgeous pine and hardwood forests blanketed with snow. Frank's Fancy is a fabulous trail for the dogs since it is winding and twisty with a number of modest hills (this is where snow plowing and stopping ability become very important). As we started down the first hill, Eric got going a little too fast and ended up wiping out in a snow bank. Following Frank's Fancy to Hessel, we turned haw onto wide open Hessel, going on by Bargy we turned "gee" onto Alice's Ally. As we turned onto Alice's, we decided to switch dogs and Eric took Acadia and Sobo while I took Okemo. Now, to date, Okemo has primarily been a wheel dog. At three years old, he's 70 lbs of pulling power with a little puppy mixed in. While he's not a speed demon, he is by far our strongest dog. Apparently, however, we for this particular little skijor excursion someone forgot to tell Okemo that he wasn't a lead dog as he galloped along, pulling hard during the entire 5 mile skijor. One one particularly steep down hill on Alice's, I ended in front of Okemo but managed to slow down enough that he was able to catch up. Following the connector trail (not shown on the map), we moved onto Dog Leg, eventually coming back to Bargy, making a "gee" turn and heading back into the trail head lot.

Acadia pulling hard down the trail

Acadia and I coming down Hessel

Stopped on the trail, Acadia searches for snow gremlins

Eric hamming it up for the camera with Okemo and Sobo

New lead dog? Okemo and I skijoring

After all that skijoring, the dogs and Eric and I were all hungry so while the dogs had a nice chicken snack, Eric and fired up the camp stove and made hot corned beef and swiss sandwiches and heated some yummy lentil soup.

After all of the excitement, we headed back for a late afternoon nap at our accommodations.

"This was so much fun," says Sobo. Can we go again?