Outdoors

Take your pooch for a spin on skis! Say hello to skijoring

Image of Fiona McGlynn skijoring with her dogs on a sunny day Photo by Fiona McGlynn

The best skijoring conditions arrive with the return of the sun. On the shortest days of the year, our subarctic town makes do with six hours of thin winter light. But come March, the afternoon temperatures crest above zero and meltwater seeps down, saturating the snowpack. The overnight freeze leaves behind a transmuted, slick surface—not quite snow, not ice, but something in between.

On these days, I break for lunch early, don my cross-country ski boots, and put our two Siberian huskies into their harnesses, a task that will become all but impossible once we near the lake and their anticipation builds to a fever pitch.

By the time I pull into the shoreside parking lot, I can hear the chaos in the truck box: the dogs squeal, stamp, and dance with excitement. I connect myself to them with a polypropylene lead. Taking a deep breath, I lower the tailgate. They launch, paws scrabbling, from the plastic truck bed liner to the road surface.

I’m dragged across the parking lot, cross-country skis in one hand, poles in the other, to where a friend is standing with her Lab-Pitbull mix (ironically, a much better puller than my huskies). We shout our pleasantries over the cacophony of yips and yowls, the dogs running circles around us. We quickly step into our skis while maneuvering around leads and untangling harnesses, doing our best to remain upright.

Allez!”

The dogs and I burst forward, lurching a few steps, my poles and skis splaying before we find a rhythm—pole, push, glide. My heart races to catch up with my limbs. In our team of three, everyone has a role. Freya, the lead dog, takes her job seriously, with her tail straight back and her stout little legs firing like pistons. She hails from Iqaluktuuttiaq (Cambridge Bay, Nun.), and her complete inability to walk nicely on a leash makes me suspect she worked as a sled dog before joining our family via the N.W.T. SPCA.

Merryn, our blue-eyed rescue from California, is what I affectionately call an “ornamental sled dog,” mostly just along for the ride, enjoying the scenery, and pulling just enough to keep the line taught.

My task is simple: keep up. On days like today, with a fast snowpack, skijoring is intense, aerobic exercise. I wear skate skis, as opposed to my usual classics, and a helmet. The dogs pull, and the more I propel, the faster we go. Freya gives me a disapproving look if she thinks I’m slacking.

I rock from ski to ski, poles barely glancing the snow’s surface, and we find a balance: I do my best not to fall, and they do their best not to dive off after the next interesting thing that crosses our path—another dog, a vole, a yellow patch of snow.

Gee!” I shout, or, “Haw!” as Freya obediently points her nose right or left, pulling Merryn and me along. We’re an eight-pawed, two-skied animal, weaving through frozen islands.

Eventually, our energy wanes. My friend “Whoas” her dog to a stop, and I pull up alongside. We unclip the dogs, allowing them to play while we chat for a few minutes before returning to work. The dogs celebrate by taking snow baths, diving, rolling, snorting, and shaking sparkling ice crystals into the air. We kick off our skis and pause, savouring the time between freeze and thaw, spring and winter; our faces turned upward to the sun’s warming rays.

How to get your furry pals moving

Allez! Mush! Hike!
Commands to start the team

Haw
Left turn

Gee
Right turn

Come Gee! Come Haw!
Turn 180° in either direction

On By!
To pass by a distraction

Easy!
To slow down

Whoa!
To halt the team

This story originally appeared in our Winter ’23 issue.

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