The word "skijor" is Norwegian in origin. It means "ski driving." In this
sport, a cross-country skier uses a dog or dogs as draft animals to pull him
across the snow.
It is difficult to pinpoint the origin of skijoring. The most common belief
is that the activity started when a group of Scandinavian adventurers returned
to their homeland from the gold rush in Alaska and the Klondike region of
Bringing home the dog sledding skills they learned in Alaska, they quickly
adapted them to the existing sport of cross-country skiing. The first skijoring
competitions were held in Europe in the 1930s.
Many of the first skijorers also trained dog sled teams. Fran Plaisted
of the New England Sled Dog Club notes that the popularity of the sport quickly
grew beyond the sled dog circles.
"Initially, this was the case: the skijorers were primarily mushers that
wanted to try this new sport," she explains. "Now there are plenty of skijorers
that just skijor. It is a lot easier for most folks to have one to three dogs
than to have a kennel large enough to run a sled dog team."
Susie Strachan is the skijoring coordinator for a dog sports club. She
adds that the need for fewer dogs has made the sport more appealing to urban
"Skijoring seems to appeal to urban dog owners, who are limited in the
number of dogs they can own. Also, skijoring can be done in local parks, on
shorter trails. A dog sled team needs a much longer trail to get a good workout."
The number of skijorers is believed to be growing steadily. However, it
is very difficult to pinpoint the actual number of participants involved in
the sport in North America. That's because only a few are actually members
of a skijoring organization.
Bob Brock is the vice-president of the North American Skijoring and Ski
Pulk Association. He feels there are even better days ahead for the activity.
"There is just too much joy to be had skiing with a dog and folks will
naturally want a part of it."
While there are no hard and fast rules governing skijoring, there is much
for the skier and dog to learn. Even experienced cross-country skiers will
find the sensation quite different when they have a dog pulling them across
The dogs need to learn basic commands, such as stop, and directional commands,
as well as how to act around other skijorers and their dogs.
Many breeds of dog can be trained as skijoring dogs, but there are a few
guidelines to follow. The dogs should be at least 30 to 40 pounds and in good
Some dogs -- because of the webbing in their paws -- are better in the
snow than others. Other dogs, because of their fur, can get snow matted between
their toes. There are small winter "booties" available to help prevent the
The time and effort necessary to train a dog for skijoring depends a lot
on the breed and temperament of the dog. Plaisted says some dogs are better
suited for the sport.
"If you have a dog that is bred to pull, it comes naturally and you just
need to train them to stay in front and take commands," she notes.
"We start training at approximately six months of age -- it is unsafe for
them to pull any substantial weight before this time -- and by the time they
are a year old, they have the hang of skijoring, although they may still be
distracted on occasion as they are still just pups.
"We also use older dogs to train younger ones and this is a much faster
method of training a dog than a person training a dog."
Training for the skier as well as the dog is also a good idea, according
to Heather Adeney. She is the coordinator of a skijoring club. However, it
isn't always easy to find someone to give lessons.
"I'd say if you can find lessons, take them. Not so much to learn to skijor
yourself, but to get help teaching the dog to pull and pass other dogs. A
class full of other skijorers would be a perfect place to teach a dog to ignore
Plaisted says overall, the workout is not as strenuous as cross-country
"The workout is usually not quite as strenuous as just skiing, as you may
be able to take more breaks on the flats and on the downhills, while you let
the dogs pull you," she points out.
"You do really need to work hard on your uphills to keep [the dogs] focused
and to keep them moving."
The physical demands on the dog can be great, according to Plaisted. She
advises that only dogs in good shape be used. And you should start preparing
your dog well before the snow starts to fall.
"We begin training our dogs in September, by having them pull a bike or
an ATV. We start short with one-mile runs and then slowly increase so that
when the snow comes we can go on longer runs," she says.
"You should not just take your couch-potato dog out and go on a 10-mile
skijor. The dogs must not be overweight and they should have no skeletal problems
like bad hips. The dogs should also weigh at least 30 pounds."
Adeney adds that most dogs will only work as hard as they have to. "There's
an old saying that goes, 'You can't push on a rope,'" she says.
"The dog is in front of you, and he can do anything from gently keeping
the towline tight to pulling like a maniac. As the dogs get in better shape,
they will choose to pull harder, for longer."
Larissa Ardis is the co-owner of an adventure company. She says it's a
good idea to reward your pet while on the trail. This ensures the activity
remains fun for them as well.
"Of course, dogs must be well hydrated, well fortified with a nutritionally
sound diet, rested frequently and rewarded on the trail, too," she says. "If
you overwork a dog, he won't like doing it anymore. It must always be fun
for the dog so he'll look forward to it and be cooperative."
Aside from the cost of a dog, and any cross-country ski equipment, the
beginner skijorer can expect to pay about $60 for the necessary gear, according
"As for the cross-country ski equipment, it depends on how much you want
to spend. You can pick up an old pair of wooden skis at a garage sale for
cheap, or you can spend a thousand bucks on quality skate skis, bindings,
boots and poles."
There are very few paid positions relating to skijoring. But there are
some. Ardis's company offers a number of activities for clients, including
skijoring instruction and tours.
North American Skijoring Association
Skijor racing, equestrian style
Skijoring Information on Sled Dog Central
Lots of great resources here
Midwest Skijorers Club
Lots of great information about training, racing and more
The Skijorer's Source
Contains an extensive photo gallery, and lots of training tips