12 January 2014

I want to skijor! A post for those with dogs that mush!

This is meant for the mushers, the scooter drivers, the sled runners, anyone out there who has the a dog, or dogs that pull already, and want to get into skijoring.  If you are new to skijoring, and have a dog not used to pulling, you can read this introduction article on Petguide.com.  

We will keep this post focused on your end of things. 


There are so many options when it comes to skis.  There are classic cross country skis, skate skis, or downhill skis.    People who are skijoring behind dogs use cross country skis, or skate skis. 

We do not use downhill skis, as they often have metal edges, which can hurt the dog.  Downhill ski boots do not allow for the heel to move up and down very much, which makes it hard to help your dog out.  

If you are using cross country skis, you have a few options here as well.  manufactures make a ski that is "waxless".  I suggest that you stay away from these models for skijoring.    They have small bumps or scales, under the kickplate of the ski, meant for the skiers to be able to grip the snow better and provide push.  When you are skijoring with your dog, your dog helps provide momentum, and you don't want or need the extra grip.   So go for skis you need to wax.  Just don't wax them like you do a regular ski. (More on that in a minute).

You can also go back country skis, or skis meant to use in a classic track, classic skis.  Be careful of backcountry skis as they often have metal edges.   But if you are skijoring in the backcountry, using your dog(s) to break trail, you are unlikely to hit your dog with the ski as you will be traveling at a slower speed, and in deeper snow. 

For most people new to skijoring, a classic ski is the way to go.  There are a number of binding options.  NNN (New Nordic Norm), SNS (Salomon Nordic System) and SNS Pilot.  All three systems are great. I prefer the SNS, as I feel it gives me more control over the ski.  There are slight differences still in each binding option.  

If you are new to skijoring, don't worry so much about the binding system you are using.  Instead find the boots you like first, then the binding that goes with it.  

Older skis use a 3-pin binding.  Using the older system is fine, but you won't be able to upgrade your boots, or have as much control over your heel.    But the cost should be reasonable, and it can be a great way to see if you like the sport!

I prefer using skate skis for most of my skijoring.   My skate skis are shorter, and stiffer than my classic skis, with almost no camber, or bounce in the ski.   I love to go fast, and really work behind my dogs, and I go for wider trails that are packed down or groomed for skijoring.  I prefer a shorter ski, so I can maneuver behind my dogs, and take tight turns.      

If you are looking for a skate ski, they are more expensive than classic skis.  Go with the cheapest, most sturdy pair, as a racing pair will not hold up to the strain of skijoring! 


Ski length

Longer skis glide longer, and are a little harder to turn.  Perfect for nice long trails with gradual turns.  They also keep going straight a little bit easier, meaning you are headed in the right direction.   Shorter skis are easier to turn and maneuver.  Which is great for trails with twists and turns.    Shorter skis are also easier to learn to skate with, whether they are classic or skate.  


The technique you will use, will be decided largely by where you are going, and your skill and comfort level on skis.  If you are going to be on wide flat trails, like skijoring trails, or skate ski trails, then you will be using double poling, or skate skiing.  If you are going on narrower, ungroomed hiking trails, or through deeper snow, you will be using a classic technique.   There are many videos on You Tube, showing different skiing techniques.  Take some time to search them, or better yet, invest in lessons at your local Nordic center. 


For skate skis, or classic skis you want to skate on, or double pole on, wax the whole ski, from tip to tail.  Using a glide wax, have you ski waxed at your local ski store.  You can of course, learn to do this yourself, if you have a spot to make a mess and a little time to learn.  

If you are going to be backcountry skijoring, or wish to classic ski behind your dog, you will wax the whole bottom of the ski, leaving a small section without glide wax.  This is the area you will apply grip, or kick wax to.   

Before you hook up your dog

Get out on your skis enough times that you have a feel for what you are doing.    You want to be able to fall, and get up.  To move yourself without relying on the dog, and to stop yourself and slow yourself.   Once you feel you are ready, ask a friend to be your dog, and pull you around a bit.   If your friend is inclined to chase squirrels or deer, ask another friend, who is more reliable. 

Consider a helmet made for winter sports. It will keep your head warmer, and save you hit an icy spot.    Even if you have a well trained dog, who is not new to mushing, accidents certainly can and do happen.    At the very least, a helmet means you can have an open casket at your funeral. 

Where to go?

Check it out, I covered this in another post in more detail.  Pretty much, look for something that is wide enough, has enough trail packed down for your dog to travel safely, and allows skijoring. 

Never take your dog to a groomed classic trail.  Running your dog in a trail that is tracked for classic skiing, ruins the trail for those of us that enjoy classic skiing, and gives skijoring a bad name.   Also, most does have trouble running on those classic trails, and it can hurt their shoulders, trying to fit in the narrow trails. 

Where ever you go, please tell someone where you are going, and when you will be back!