JACKSON, N.H. — Ellen Chandler recalls the first time she ever tried skijoring. A musher offered her his gear and veteran sled dog to try. Chandler attached the man’s skijoring harness around her own waist, clipped the skijor line to the dog’s harness — and took off.

“I am not a dog person. And it was exhilarating. I skied so much faster than I normally do,” said Chandler of this sport in which a Nordic skier is tethered to one or more dogs.

That memory inspired Chandler, now the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation’s executive director, to offer skijoring rental equipment at the non-profit’s trails last year. It wasn’t advertised, and drew little interest. But Chandler is hopeful the rental package — now priced at $10 for a day (renting skis or buying a ski center pass is extra) — will gain fans. She knows of no other Nordic center that offers the opportunity to try the dog-centered sport.

In Maine, only some of the Nordic centers allow dogs on their groomed cross-country ski trails in the first place, and so far none rent skijoring equipment.

“It’s a great way to channel a dog’s energy,” Chandler said. “A lot of dogs like to learn things, and a lot of people like to learn with their dogs.”

A recreational skijoring set costs $100 for the skier belt, bungee line and dog harness; the price of a professional racing set is higher. Before expending that money, dog owners who cross-country ski may want to try the sport.

Skijoring gear is far safer for the dog than a leash and collar, which pull the dog at the neck and throat. Skijoring employs a webbed, flexible harness that distributes pressure across the dog’s body.

Chandler acknowledged the sport is not appropriate for every dog. “For example, you wouldn’t take a Maltese out skijoring,” she said.

The Jackson ski touring center, located down the road from Mount Washington, has 60 miles of trails of which just over 9 miles are set aside for skiers with dogs.

In early December after the season’s first snowfall, Chandler led a skijor demonstration with Jack Steffen. A dog musher of nearly 40 years, Steffen works in the Gorham Bike and Ski shop that’s inside the Jackson Ski Touring center and is helping to teach skiers there about skijoring.

Outdoors reporter Deirdre Fleming tries skijoring with her dog Bingo. He’s a natural. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

The veteran dog handler said many types of dogs can excel at skijoring — the key is to pick a willing dog that is well suited to the sport and enjoys the cold. Don’t use dogs that weigh much under 30 pounds, he cautioned. But even with a larger dog, skiers should not let the bungee cord go taut. When skijoring, the dog should not actually pull the skier. Rather, the four-legged teammate sets the pace, and the skier pushes herself to keep up. “The whole point is you skate ski faster than you would alone,” Steffen said.

Dogs that love to play in the snow are ideal, he said. And a dog that looks eager and interested when he’s suited up with a skijoring harness is the dog to use. Perfect obedience is not a must. Dogs with a “skijoring personality,” Steffen said, will take to the sport from the start. On the other hand, dogs that show little interest, are distracted, or, obviously, are aggressive toward people or other dogs probably are not right for skijoring.

Inside the touring center, Steffen observed my companion animal — a 40-pound Australian Cattle mix — slip into the harness, and then sit and watch the skiers talking. Minutes later, Bingo was lying on his side, resting in his new sports gear. Steffen looked down and laughed. It was obvious, he said, that Bingo, who has a lifetime of experience running ahead of hikers and mountain bikers, showed great potential.

Bingo is all ears, eager to learn what’s next. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“He’s a natural,” Steffen said as the group set off for the touring center’s dog trails at Prospect Farm, five miles away. “He doesn’t mind the harness.”

The fact Bingo accepted the harness was a good sign. But when Steffen skied with Bingo — and watched him run on the Nordic trail with single-minded intent chasing me, as I skate skied ahead — the musher was certain this 11-year-old herding dog would enjoy skijoring.

For most of an hour, Steffen skied with Bingo on the dog-friendly trail, taking long breaks to keep Bingo fresh, so he wouldn’t drop back from his lead position. When Bingo pulled the line taut going up hills, Steffen gave him the familiar command: “Wait,” to keep the dog from pulling the tall skier.

When we all stopped after a long down hill, Steffen wore a huge grin. It’s just speculation on my part, but I think Bingo looked proud.

“He’s doing what is called a three-beat gait. It is less tiring than a full-out gallop. It’s a comfortable run that helps conserve energy,” Steffen said. “I’d say he likes it.”

The real thrill, however, came when Steffen returned my dog. By then, Bingo had this skijoring business figured out. He didn’t charge ahead up hills. And he really let it rip on the flats.

On the last long downhill, Bingo’s now-customary three-beat gait broke open into a full-on sprint, with all four paws going airborne. He needed no encouragement from me, his teammate, who was laughing too hard to talk. And the bonus: the exercise made me far more proficient at the Nordic discipline.

All around us on the trails, other skiers and snowshoers nodded and smiled with curiosity. The Norwegian sport looked like a joyful partnership, they said, given a dog with the right temperament.

“It’s a great idea. I’d like to try it,” said Jeremy Roberts as he held his large German Shepherd mix back before he hit the trails. “However, our dog might be a little crazy for that.”


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