Skijoring with a dog is a sport in which a dog (or dogs) assist a cross-country skier. One to three dogs are commonly used. The cross-country skier provides power with skis and poles, and the dog adds additional power by running and pulling. The skier wears a skijoring harness, the dog wears a sled dog harness, and the two are connected by a length of rope. There are no reins or other signaling devices to control the dog; the dog must be motivated by its own desire to run, and respond to the owner's voice for direction.
Many breeds of dog participate in skijoring. The only prerequisite is a desire to run down a trail and pull, which is innate in many dogs. Small dogs (less than 40 pounds) are rarely seen skijoring, because they do not greatly assist the skier; however, since the skier can provide as much power as is required to travel, any enthusiastic dog can participate. Athletic dogs such as Pointers, Setters and herding breeds take to skijoring with glee, as do the northern breeds, such as Siberian and Alaskan Huskies, Malamutes, Samoyeds, and Inuit dogs; however, any large energetic dog is capable of enjoying this sport. Golden Retrievers, Giant Schnauzers, Labs,[clarification needed] and many cross-breeds are seen in harness. Pulling breeds work well also such as American Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Terriers, American bull dogs, and mastiffs.
The sport is practiced recreationally and competitively, both for long distance travel and for short (sprint) distances.
Since many leashed dogs naturally tend to pull a skier with no training, the sport cannot claim a single country of origin. As a competitive sport, however, it is believed that the first races were held in Scandinavia as an offshoot of the older sport of Pulka. Competitive racing has been taken up in North America while its older cousin Pulka racing has not yet become popular.
Skijor races are held in many countries where there is snow in winter. Most races are between 5 kilometers and 20 kilometers in length. The longest race is the Kalevala held in Kalevala, Karelia, Russia, with a distance of 440 kilometres (270 mi). Next is the River Runner 120 held in Whitehorse, Yukon, with a distance of 120 miles (190 km). In the United States and Canada, skijoring races are often held in conjunction with sled dog races. In Scandinavia, skijor racing is tightly associated with the older Scandinavian sport of Pulka. Skijoring races are not normally limited to purebred Northern breed dogs such as the Siberian Husky. On the contrary, the top ranked racing teams in the world are German Shorthaired Pointers, Pointer/Greyhound mixes, Alaskan Huskies, or crosses between these breeds.
Although some races are unsanctioned, held under the sole guidance of a local club, many races fall under one of three international organizations. In the United States and Canada, ISDRA (International Sled Dog Racing Association) sanctions many races. In Europe ESDRA (European Sled Dog Racing Association) provides sanctioning, and the IFSS (International Federation of Sleddog Sports) sanctions World Cup races all over the world, as well as a world championship race every two years. At the IFSS World championship event, skijoring races are separated into men's and women's, and one-dog and two-dog categories. The USA held the world's largest Skijoring event in February 2011 at the City of Lakes Loppet in Minneapolis. 200 Skijoring teams raced in this event which included the first ever National Skijoring Championship.
The skijoring belt worn by the skier is a wide waistband which is clipped around the skier's waist, and which may include leg loops to keep it in position. Rock Climbing harnesses are also commonly used as skijoring belts.
The sled dog harness can be any of the several types of dog harness commonly used for dogsled racing.
The skijoring line is usually at least 1.5 metres (8 feet) long. A longer line is used for a three-dog team. A section of bungee cord is often incorporated into the line to absorb the impact of the dog's forward motion or a quick stop by the skier. Special quick-release hitches or hooks are available, used so that the skijorer may unhook the dog's lead rapidly.
The skier uses either a classic diagonal stride cross-country technique, or the faster skate skiing technique. In races, the skate-skiing technique is almost exclusively used. The skis are hot waxed from tip to tail, to avoid slowing the dog team down. Classic skis with grip wax are not used for races but are occasionally used for extended back-country travel.
Skijoring dogs are taught the classic dog sledding commands to start running (hike), turn (gee and haw—right and left respectively in the US), to stop (whoa) and to pass distractions (on by). Training is best done on foot, before the person straps on their skis, to avoid being pulled into objects, like trees or half-frozen creeks.
To participate in races, skijoring dogs must be taught to pass, or be passed by other teams without interfering with them. An overly friendly attempt by one dog to stop and greet another team passing at high speed can be as problematic as a dog that attempts to nip other dogs in passing. A top skijor racing team can pass other teams head-on, without even turning to look at them.
Equestrian skijoring consists of a team of a single horse, generally guided by a rider, pulling a person on skis who carries no poles and simply hangs onto a tow rope in a manner akin to water skiing. In France, competitions involve a riderless horse, which is guided by the skier. In all cases, the horses have to be trained to accept the presence of ropes and skier behind them and to remain calm in racing conditions.
In North America, the North American Ski Joring Association holds competitions in which a rider guides the horse while the skier navigates a series of jumps and obstacles. More informal competitions are held on flat ground over short courses, often as simple sprint races on a straightaway, sometimes with turns on the course. Competitors often use short skis and modified water skiing towing equipment, though often this is as simple as a single tow rope attached to the back of a western saddle. Some variants in equipment attach two towing lines to either the back of a saddle or the breastplate on the horse. Timing is typically electronic, with top competitions decided by hundredths of seconds.
Two types of race courses are common in skijoring competitions, the straight course and the horseshoe-shaped course. The straight course allows the horse to run at top speed down the middle of the course with the skier navigating slalom gates and jumps ranging from three to nine feet high, set on either side of the horse track. At some events, to add difficulty, the skier is also required to grab one or more rings as they ski past a station on the course. The horseshoe-shaped course allows the horse to run on the inside of the track while the skier navigates slalom racing gates and jumps ranging from four to six feet high.
The World Skijoring Championships have been held in Whitefish, Montana since 2009, as a part of the annual Whitefish Winter Carnival, usually the last weekend of January. The 2011 World Skijoring Championships had an actual purse of $19,580 and 91 teams, and also featured a "Murdoch's Long Jump" competition as a separate class, where a horseman pulls a skier straight ahead as fast as possible, with the skier jumping for maximum distance, similar to gelandesprung, but landing on the flat. Skiers are required to land upright. Some teams emphasize a speed-acceleration "crack-the-whip" effect by either having the horse veer to the side immediately before the jump, or the skier will carve his or her own crack-the-whip before attempting the jump. The long jump itself is an 8–10 foot jump and the 2011 winning distance was 56 feet.
The World Skijoring Championship classes include the Open Pick & Draw class (for the top skiers, including some former U.S. Ski Team competitors and fastest horses), the Sport Class, the Black Star Mule Class (where all skiers are required to be pulled by a mule), and the Great Northern Novice Class, in addition to the long jump class. While skijoriing in Whitefish began in the 1960s, the "modern era" of skijoring was re-instituted in 2003 by long-time locals Scott Ping and Dale Duff. The World Skijoring Championships has even spawned a local recreational skijoring league. This annual event has some of the lowest entry fees and used to boast the largest added money and largest purse. The first annual Skijoring Championships in the neighboring town of Lakeside, Montana held New Years weekend of 2017 now holds the record for the most added money and largest purse.
The city of Leadville, Colorado has organized an equestrian competition since 1949, which has a much higher emphasis on speed. The Leadville version is normally spelled as two words: "Ski Joring". A horse and rider pull a skier at a fast pace through a course that has gates, jumps and rings. The skier is timed through the course, and penalties are assessed by missing gates or jumps, and by missing or dropping any of the rings (two seconds each). The competitors race for cash prizes, and teams are made up by a random draw before the start.
Skijoring can also take place behind a snowmobile or other small motorized vehicle. The vehicle and driver pull a skier in a manner more akin to the equestrian style, which is more suited for higher speeds than is the dog skijoring style.
Another variant can tow skiers behind an all terrain carrier such as the Bandvagn 206. In this case, several skiers or soldiers can be towed on the same rope. The rope is passed around the skiers ski poles and continues to the next person in line. Skiers then preferably hang on to their ski poles, supported by their arms.
Skijoring features in the 1998 film Silver Wolf, starring Michael Biehn and Roy Scheider. Skijoring was also talked about in the Castle Films short Snow Thrills, pronounced by Joel Robinson as "she-horring" and described by Tom Servo as "A safe and fun way to blow a Saturday...or a knee!"
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