Published March 29, 2011, 09:15 AM

Skijoring combines love of nature, dogs and exercise

Duluthian Sierra Anderson, 24, has been skijoring since she was 8 years old, but her first exposure to the sport sprang from practical rather than competitive reasons.

By: Sarah Packingham, Northland Outdoors

Duluthian Sierra Anderson, 24, has been skijoring since she was 8 years old, but her first exposure to the sport sprang from practical rather than competitive reasons.

“It was a fun way to keep up with my dad (Tim) when he skied and to try and wear our crazy Alaska husky, Kavik, out,” Anderson said in an e-mail interview. “I’ve always, always loved dogs, especially huskies.”

John Lewis, a 25-year-old native Duluthian, grew up cross-country and downhill skiing before spending some time away from those sports.

About four years ago, he got back into cross-country skiing, mostly for the good workout and as an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.

This past winter, however, he started to skijor with his young dogs.

“When I was little, my mom would always bring me skiing,” Lewis said.

He said that he liked the challenge that is always there with cross-country skiing. Now, with skijoring, he has a new challenge.

Skijoring combines cross-country skiing with dogsledding. The term means “ski-driving.” Most commonly a skier is pulled by anywhere between one and four dogs. Skijoring also can be done with other animals such as horse or reindeer.

The bond between dogs and humans makes using a dog the most common animal in skijoring.

“They are very unique animals that are true friends,” Anderson said. “Exercising with them and working as a team like in skijoring is a wonderful experience.”

As a child, Anderson used to compete in 1-kilometer races, but now she is skijoring mainly for fun as she’s working to complete her master’s degree. She does hope to be a competitive skijorer again.

As Lewis is so new to the sport, he hasn’t competed in any races yet.

“If I do compete, though, I’d like to do well; I’d like to be able to win,” he said.

Lewis hasn’t had any formal training in the sport.

“I’ve mostly self-taught myself, and I bought a book from Duluth Pack,” he said. “I’ve also done some online research.”

It’s a common misconception that only sled dogs can be used for skijoring, but in reality any dog that’s bigger than 30 pounds can be a good skijor dog, Anderson said.

Anderson has a husky mix, while Lewis has a lab-husky mix and a golden retriever.

“The husky is a little better,” Lewis said. “He’s a little more prone to run.”

But he said the golden retriever is great to work with, too.

Anderson agreed with Lewis.

“Some dogs are naturally pullers and catch on quickly, while others take a little more time to acclimate to running in front of a pair of moving skis,” she said.

There are a few crucial items that are necessary in order to start skijoring. Skate skis and cross-country equipment are a must, along with a skijor belt, harness and, of course, dogs.

When there’s no snow, it’s still possible to practice, whether it’s while running with the dogs in the harness, or biking with them.

Skijoring can be difficult to master at first while coordinating how a human moves and a dog moves.

“You really have to control your dog,” said Lewis. “You have to make sure they stay in front of you and don’t stray.”

It’s important to reward the dogs when they do something right, but they also are disciplined when they do something wrong.

For Anderson, skijoring is a family affair. Besides her husband, and father, she has a number of friends that skijor as well. For Lewis, he’s just learning the sport on his own and in the future, his wife, Emily, may start participating as well.

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