Skijoring 101

Grab your pup and a pair of skis, and try your hand at this unique winter sport.
On any given winter day, Karen Christopherson skijores with any of her three dogs, Maisy, Aspen or Squash.

Minnesotans and Wisconsinites aren’t the type to let a little snow and ice stop them from enjoying the great outdoors. Cross-country skiing and dogsledding are among winter’s most popular recreational activities, and while skijoring might be less familiar, it combines the best of both. Derived from the Norwegian word for “ski driving,” skijoring is essentially dog-powered skiing. For both humans and canines suffering from winter-induced cabin fever, it’s a great way to let loose some energy and have fun all winter long.

Popular in Nordic countries, skijoring is quickly gaining enthusiasm throughout the United States, especially in the upper Midwest. Karen Christopherson is an avid skijorer, and though she says she and her dogs, Maisy, Aspen and Squash, are strictly recreational, they all love the release the sport offers—so much so that in the off-season, they bikejor or scooterjor instead.
“I really love winter, and skijoring is super fun and good exercise and exhilarating for sure, but what I really, really love about it is that there’s a level of teamwork and trust—both trust between you and your dog and trust in your training—that I haven’t quite felt with other dog sports I’ve dabbled in,” she says. “[The dogs] are out at the end of that line, and really, they could do just about anything they wanted and bring you along for the ride. But when their hearts are really in it and you’re all in the moment together and gliding along, it’s such an incredible feeling of being in a real team with the dogs.”

Only minimal equipment is necessary to start skijoring: a pair of skis, a pulling harness and, of course, a dog. While huskies might seem like the obvious choice, skijoring enthusiasts say any dog will do. “There are all kinds of dogs that skijor,” says Kevin Murphy, who has been skijoring for more than two decades with more than a couple of dogs. “There are people with tiny little dogs that skijor and have fun, so there’s really nothing that prevents anybody from enjoying this sport with their dog.”

Since nearly all dogs love to run, skijoring makes an ideal way to ensure they get the exercise they need, even when it’s cold out. “You’ll like winter a whole lot better, and your dog will be tired out and not chewing on your dining room table,” Murphy says. “I think it’s a win-win for everybody, in that regard.”

Like all sports, skijoring requires a bit of training, but it’s easy to pick up. Both Murphy and Christopherson say there are plenty of resources available. “There’s a great book called Ski Spot Run that helped me a great deal, and there are several Facebook groups and other online communities that can steer people toward clubs and mentors,” Christopherson says. “I’ve found the joring and mushing communities to be extremely welcoming and generous with help and advice.”

Once you and your pup are ready to skijor, there are plenty of great places nearby, just make sure you opt for either a multiuse trail or one specifically designated for skijoring, as dogs will damage tracks groomed for skiers only. Afton State Park maintains a multiuse trail, and there are several others throughout the Twin Cities metro as well. And, like many things, skijoring is best enjoyed with others. “Find other people that are involved,” Murphy says. “Dogs learn from each other quite well. They love to run with each other, and it’s always more fun to go out with other people.”