March 14, 2010

Dog gone! Skijoring takes off in Maine

More Mainers are trying the sport of skijoring – snapping on skis and hooking up their pups – just for the fun of it.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — Don Thibodeau's family dogs, Madde and Nelly, sat in his truck bed like statues last weekend. Amid the woods noise in this patch of Fryeburg forest, the anticipation was thick.

click image to enlarge

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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Josh Maillett of Fryeburg, seen competing during the Mushers Bowl with Tico, his brother’s dog, took up skijoring this year. He now plans to get a dog of his own, a German shorthaired pointer.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

SKIJORING SUPPLIES IN MAINE

NOOKSACK RACING SUPPLIES, 63 French Road, Oxford; 539-4324; www.nooksackracing.com

These German shorthairs knew what was next.

Scattered about Thibodeau's truck lay harnesses, lead lines and the makings of a ski day -- perhaps one of the last.

Moments later the three were flying over what snow remained in Fryeburg on groomed trails that were still frozen at 7 a.m.

Skijoring, the snow sport that unites people with pups, is not just for sled dogs anymore.

Thibodeau has been doing this fast-paced, pack-oriented sport for four years with his hunting dogs. But he's now like a lot of new skijoring fans in Maine: A dog owner who loves action with dogs that crave it.

"The sport has gained in popularity just from being more visible. The Mushers Bowl races have added a few new skijorer racers, but most of those have been folks taking up the sport and doing it for fun," said Mike Friedman, a Bridgton attorney and one of the organizers of the Mushers Bowl, which is held in Bridgton and features skijoring as one of the many activities.

For less than $100 a Nordic skier can get the lead line, dog harness and human harness needed in this sport. All that is required beyond that is a love of speed and a dog, and many borrow the latter.

The skier simply wears a back brace that is strapped by a flexible lead line to the dog's full-body harness. It doesn't take long for both to figure out how this works, Thibodeau said.

In fact, he said, it is more natural than it looks.

"I raced for the first time last year. It was just a gas. And the more time you spend with your dogs, the better mannered they are," said Thibodeau, owner of Green Thumb Farms and a partner in the production of Cold River Vodka.

The canine camaraderie in skijoring is contagious.

Thibodeau and his son, Brian, got their Fryeburg neighbor Josh Maillett into skijoring. Maillett, 30, started this year and raced with his brother's German pointer, Tico. Now he is getting a German shorthaired pointer.

"Tico just naturally took to it," Maillett said of his brother's dog. "He just loves to run. I would just say left and right. After a few times, he figured out what that meant."

To skijor with a breed of dog that loves to run is definitely easier, but not necessary.

Peggy Dwyer of Livermore skis with her standard poodles. She calls it joy in motion.

"It's ridiculous fun," Dwyer said. "I'm not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination. I hated cross-country skiing. I was a downhill skier. I thought this was an awful lot of work. But my dogs make it a way to play."

Like Thibodeau, Dwyer also recruited friends into skijoring. She has loaned her poodles to neighbors so they all can circle the eight-mile loop in town together.

Dwyer said for both people and dogs, skijoring is easy to learn.

"I have five neighbors who also are into it, who play with me," she said. "Four of them bought poodles to do it."

Dwyer believes dogs can teach each other better than we can show them. And watching them figure out this "pack" sport is part of the fun.

When dogs new to skijoring are running beside a veteran, Dwyer said it's not long before "the light goes on."

And generally once it does, dogs don't want to stop.

"Dogs know the game. They encourage each to keep doing it. Dogs feed off each other," Dwyer said.

 

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.comSKIJORING SUPPLIES IN MAINE

NOOKSACK RACING SUPPLIES, 63 French Road, Oxford; 539-4324; www.nooksackracing.com

 

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Betsy McGettigan of Norway races down a hill at the 2010 Mushers Bowl in Bridgton.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

  


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