Before I could say, “Yip yip,” Togo dashed down the trail, plunging through half a foot of fresh powder and pulling me along behind her. As we made our way into the woods, my grin increased in keeping with our pace.
The switchback mountain-bike trail outside Northampton, Mass., descended slightly but consistently, with gravity giving Togo a hand. At first, I tried to stride my skis in pace with her, as we do on flatter terrain. But as we whipped around one turn and darted down another in conditions far better than usual, I switched techniques. Widening my stance, I leaned back and enjoyed the ride. For several minutes, it felt like I was waterskiing through the snow—the best ski day of the season. What I sacrificed in cardio-vascular gain, I more than made up for in pure experiential thrill.
A lifelong downhill and cross-country skier, I thought skijoring seemed like a natural extension after adopting a Siberian husky, the breed most likely to take off on a multihour walkabout at any given moment. These days, I spend most of my ski time skijoring. For those not familiar with the activity, a long leash connects me via a waste belt to my dog, who is wearing a harness. What might sound like an added challenge is actually a great way to experience the winter months. If you can cross-country ski and you have a willing canine collaborator, you can skijor. But as with all outdoor pursuits, there’s varied gear, training strategies, and techniques to consider.
“It’s an easy sport to get into,” says Meg Mizzoni, the president of the New England Sled Dog Club (NESDC). Founded in 1924, the NESDC is the oldest club of its kind in North America and one of several organizations in the Northeast—including the Yankee Siberian Husky Club, the Down East Sled Dog Club, and the Pennsylvania Sled Dog Club—that host races in the winter, weather permitting.
Although Mizzoni doesn’t compete in skijoring races, she does practice the sport regularly. “Not everyone can have twenty dogs,” she says, “but one or two is enough to skijor.”