By Amy Bayer
Skijoring is a winter sport which combines a cross-country skier with a dog on a harness. You provide power with skis and poles while your dog adds additional power by running and pulling, following your verbal commands. It's an activity which allows both human and four-legged athletes to enjoy exercise in the great outdoors during winter.
Skijoring is derived from the Norwegian word for "ski driving," and one to three dogs are commonly used (although in some circumstances horses or motorized vehicles are also used). Although skijoring has been around for hundreds of years, its popularity is rapidly growing in Wisconsin. As more races and tour companies feature skijoring, dog enthusiasts recognize it as an activity they can participate in with a dog and minimal equipment.
Here are some ideas for places to go in Wisconsin whether you're looking to learn or are an experienced skijorer.
Learning How to Skijor
Skijoring falls under the category of sled dog sports, so before you begin it is recommended to review the sled dog care guidelines at the Mush with Pride website. Most medium-sized dogs (30 pounds and up) will be able to skijor if trained properly.
The Justin Trails Nordic Center offers a lot of open space including a special dog loop for skijoring with your four-legged friend. Staff at Justin Trails also provides skijoring lessons for you and your dog; all you need is a dog that likes to pull and they will help you with the rest.
The Minocqua Winter Park holds skijoring clinics hosted by the Wisconsin Trailblazers Sled Dog Club. Their clinics are a great place for you and your dog to learn to skijor, and it’s a fantastic location to practice after you’ve learned the basics.
Where to Skijor in Wisconsin
When you're ready to go skijoring on your own, look for dog-friendly parks around the state that have multi-use trails or trails that have not already been groomed specifically for cross-country skiers. Here are some locations for you to check out:
- Chase’s Point (Orange Trail) – Superior (Shared with snowmobiles/ATVs.)
- Chippewa Moraine State Recreation Area – New Auburn
- Indian Lake County Park (Pet Area) – Cross Plains
- Interstate State Park (Silverbrook Trail) – St. Croix Falls (While the park doesn't have official skijoring trails, they have more multi-use trails than other state park in the region.)
- MECCA Trails – Mercer (Dogs are allowed on untracked areas.)
- Pike's Creek & Jerry Jay Jolly Trails – Bayfield (Note dogs can’t access via the Mt. Ashwabay/Skill Hill Road entrance.)
- Seeley Hills Trail – Hayward
- Southern Kettle Moraine Unit - Lapham Peak (Prairie Path) – Delafield
Skijoring Races in Wisconsin
Here are just a handful of iconic skijoring competitions held in Wisconsin every winter.
The American Birkebeiner is a four-day event in the Cable/Hayward area that hosts thousands of skiers from around the world. Included in this skiing extravaganza is the Barkie Birkie, which loops through Hayward and has two courses: one for fast, experienced teams and another course for novice, inexperienced teams.Video by Nate Baker
There is always snow in February on the Capitol Square for the Madison Winter Festival, an event that hosts cross country skiing, snow carving, fat bike races, ice sculptures and, of course, skijoring. The 3K competition races around our State Capitol building on more than 90 truckloads of snow that is dumped on the streets.
Hundreds of sled dog enthusiasts compete during this annual winter event. More than just sled dog races, Merrill's Winterfest also has a skijoring track and numerous other community activities like skating and indoor volleyball.
The Three Bear Sled Dog Race is one of the premier spectator races in the northern Midwest. The Three Bear's course is known for its beautiful trails and warm hospitality. From six-dog sled races to skijoring, this event is a favorite among dogs and their owners.