Special Report: Outdoor Options Part 1

Skijoring Connects Nature and Man's Best Friend

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Winter is the cold, snowy and icy season, and for many Northlanders, it’s the season for skiing and snowmobiling.

But for some of the more adventurous, there are other activities – some that are a little off the beaten path, so to speak.

To Stephanie Love, a snow-covered trail north of Duluth is the beginning of a new adventure, and a new chance to connect to the outdoors.

“I think winter is one of those under-appreciated seasons and I feel particularly lucky that I get to be outside all winter doing a whole lot of activities,” Love said, while gearing up for a day of skijoring on the trails near Biskey Pond.

Skijoring is an activity that, in simple terms, combines cross country skiing with dogs.

“Any dog that’s over about 30 pounds can be trained to pull,” Love explains.  “Some people take their labs out, they take all kinds of different dogs out.”

With the help of Kayley, April, and Tortoise, Steph and her friends get a power boost that might not always be possible.

The dogs have been trained to wear the harness, and listen to commands you may hear from dog sled mushers.

“It’s really helpful to teach them ‘gee haw,'” explains skijorer Alyssa Mesedahl, “So ‘gee’ means go right and ‘haw’ means go left, the same as with dog sledding.”

Skijoring is a sport that goes back hundreds of years to the sprawling forests of Scandinavia, or the snowy hills of Eastern Europe.  

For those who enjoy the sport to this day, it’s a connection to that history and heritage.

“I’ve been on skis since about the time I could walk,” Mesedahl said, discussing her own Scandinavian heritage.  “To feel like you’re carrying on a tradition that’s been a rich part of your history is really cool.”

Trails can be several kilometers long, with twists, turns, and hills.  It can still be quite a workout, for both the skiers and the dogs.

“You don’t want to attempt skijoring unless you’re already a pretty solid skier,” Love explains.  “So intermediate-level skiing is really important.  Otherwise, it’s possible to hurt yourself or hurt your dog, so you need to have some good skiing skills under your belt just on your own first before you hook up the dog.  It adds a whole other element.”

Skijoring is a sport that takes equipment, a little preparation, and more than basic skills at skiing.

Still, those who enjoy it say it’s a fun and even peaceful way to connect to nature and their dogs.

“There’s just something nice about being out in the woods, and it’s quiet, and you’re under your own power,” Love said.

Mesedahl agrees, “It’s peaceful.  You get an interaction with an animal, you’re kind of working as a team.  You know that you’re working under the power of your dog and you combined, and covering some really pretty country along the way, and strengthening the bond between you and your dogs too.”

Even though it’s well below freezing outside, strengthening the bonds with their dogs is something that will warm anyone’s heart.

Steph Love is the co-founder of Positive Energy Outdoors, a Duluth-based non-profit that encourages families and those wanting to learn more about outdoor activities to get out and try something new.

They can be reached via their website to set up an adventure at any time during the year.

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