Skijor racing with dogs
Skijoring (pronounced //) is a winter sport in which a person on skis is pulled by a horse, a dog (or dogs) or a motor vehicle. It is derived from the Norwegian word skikjøring, meaning "ski driving". Although skijoring is said to have originated as a mode of winter travel, it is currently primarily a competitive sport.
For hundreds of years, Sami people harnessed reindeer and strapped on Nordic skis as a way to travel across vast snowy expanses. Skijoring ("ski driving") is still popular in all Scandinavian countries. Reindeer races are still held in Tromso, Norway; Inari, Finland; and Nadym, Russia. By 1912, skijoring behind horses was a popular activity in Switzerland and France.
Another theory is that Skijoring may have originated in China. During the Yuan and Ming dynasties (1271–1644) historian John B. Allen wrote, “tens of dogs pull a person on a pair of wooden boards...galloping on the snow and ice faster than a horse.“ His sources included an account from the Tang dynasty, written by the Persian historian, Raschid ed-Din, published in the west in 1878. and published numerous times in Western Languages.
From its roots in Europe, equine skijoring found its way to North America. In 1915, it appeared as a recreational activity in Lake Placid, New York and beginning in 1916 was a regular pastime at the Dartmouth Winter Carnival in Hanover, New Hampshire.
In 1924, equine skijoring made an appearance at the Chamonix International Winter Sports Week, which set the stage for its inclusion as an exhibition sport at the 1928 Winter Olympic Games two years later in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
It is speculated that when World War II ended, men from the 10th Mountain Division returned home to the American west after seeing skijoring in countries such as France and Switzerland. To simplify the equipment, cowboys on horseback simply attached a long rope to the saddle horn of a western saddle, added a water skiing tow handle, and the skier held on as the horse was ridden at a gallop down a long straightaway—usually an open field or a snow-covered roadway. Mountain towns like Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Steamboat Springs, Colorado took up the sport. Originally these matches ran multiple teams of horse, rider and skier side by side against one another rather than single teams against the clock. This is possibly how modern American races were born. The city of Leadville, Colorado first organized an equestrian competition in 1949, which today is still in operation.The Leadville version is normally spelled as two words: "Ski Joring". In 1976, Denver, Colorado listed skijoring as an exhibition sport in their bid for the Winter Olympics. Although Denver won the bid, the city ultimately turned it down, and skijoring was likewise not held.
By the 1950s, skiers were sometimes towed by motorcycles or automobiles in races. In modern-day Latvia, skiers are towed in a motocross-style event called Twitch'n'Ride. At the Arctic Man competition in Alaska, skiers are towed behind snowmobiles that travel up to 86 miles per hour (138 km/h). Currently, in the United Kingdom, athletes are skijoring on turf or in arenas. In some coastal regions in France and on Caribbean islands, skijoring occurs on beaches.
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 German short-haired 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, including Golden retrievers, German shepherds, Greyhounds, Dalmatians, and Border Collies are regularly utilized in this sport.
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.
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. Two hundred 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 2.5 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.
Techniques and training
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 usually consists of a team of a horse and two people: a rider for the horse, and a skier. A rider controls the horse, and the person on skis carries no poles and holds a tow rope in a manner akin to water skiing. In some places in Europe, competitions involve a riderless horse who is guided by the skier. Open snowpacked fields and community streets are sometimes used, although horse racetracks are also used in some places.
The horses gallop down a track roughly 900–1,200 feet (270–370 m) in length. Skiers must navigate a series of jumps and gates. 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. On a straight track, the horse runs down the middle of the course with the skier navigating slalom gates and jumps on either side of the track. Some places use a horseshoe-shaped track that allows the horse to run on the inside of the track and the ski jumps are set on the outside of the track for the skier. Jumps are 2 to 7 feet (0.61 to 2.13 m) in height, lower on curved tracks or in places where snowboarders wish to compete.
Venues may also offer novelty events, such as a long jump competition where the horse pulls a skier who jumps for maximum distance, similar to gelandesprung, but landing on the flat. 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. Competitors have reached 56 feet (17 m).
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 saddle horn or behind the cantle of a western saddle. Some variants in equipment attach two towing lines to either the back of a saddle or a breastplate on the horse. Timing is typically electronic, with top competitions decided by hundredths of seconds. There are typically three classes of teams: Pro/Open, Sport, and Novice. There may be age divisions, as well as separate events for Women or people with and Snowboards. At times, 100 teams compete each day over a racing weekend, prize pots can reach upwards of $20,000.
The horses are trained to accept the presence of ropes and a skier behind them, and to remain calm in racing conditions. 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. The competitors often race for cash prizes.
Competitive equine skijoring races take place in eight states in the US, most in the Rocky Mountain West, as well as in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Alberta, Canada. There are different variations of the sport across numerous countries worldwide: France, Denmark, Latvia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Ukraine and Russia.
Today, in Europe, equine skijoring gets the most exposure during White Turf in St. Moritz, Switzerland. White Turf, an event which features horse racing on snow as well as chariot racing and skijoring, began in 1907 and draws over 35,000 spectators a day.
In the United States, Leadville, Colorado has been hosting a competition down its main street since 1949. Leadville hosted their 71st race in 2019.  Steamboat Springs, Colorado claims skijoring has been a tradition at the Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival for over 100 years. Other major events include the Whitefish Winter Carnival, which has hosted the World Skijoring Championships. In 2011, this event awarded $19,580 in purse money and hosted 91 teams.
Other US venues include Helena, Butte, Wisdom, Bozeman, Red Lodge, Whitefish, Kalispell, Big Sky and West Yellowstone Montana (National Championship Finals venue); Hailey and Driggs, Idaho; Jackson Hole, Saratoga, Pinedale, Sundance and Sheridan, Wyoming; Soldier Hollow, Utah; and Silverton, Leadville, Kremmling, Pagosa Springs and Ridgway, Colorado. In 2019, Steamboat Springs, Colorado hosted its first competitive race in addition to and separate from the town's annual Winter Carnival. Canterbury Park, Minnesota and Skowhegan, Maine also hosted races in 2019.
Skijor International was founded in 2012 to promote the sport of equine skijoring Skijor USA, an affiliate, sponsors a circuit of about 12 races. Skijor International, LLC and Skijor USA, both non-profit organizations, hope to bring equine skijoring back to the Winter Olympic Games in some capacity in 2026 or 2030, marking 100 years of skijoring history. Skijoring America, a similar organization, was founded in 2015 and is headquartered in Montana. 
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 skier's ski poles and continues to the next person in line. Skiers then preferably hang on to their ski poles, supported by their arms.
In the media
Skijoring features in the 1998 film Silver Wolf, starring Michael Biehn and Roy Scheider. Skijoring is also mentioned in the Castle Films short Snow Thrills, which was later included in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. In the episode, the sport is pronounced by host Joel Robinson as "she-horring." Another character, Tom Servo, describes skijoring as "A safe and fun way to blow a Saturday... or a knee!"
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Skijoring.|
- Jackson Hole Skijoring 2016 Video
- White Turf - Horse Skijoring and racing event held on the Lake of St Moritz, Switzerland
- 1928 Winter Olympics Skijoring
- Skijor USA: An Alliance
- Skijor International