Going skiing? Why not bring the dog?
Vail, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY – A pooch seems like a natural companion during summer ventures into the great outdoors. When the lifts are turning, though, Man’s best friend often gets left inside.
But that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, according to many dog-loving winter recreators. With the right gear and proper precautions, a dog can wind up being your fave ski buddy.
“Skiing with her is pretty awesome,” Montezuma resident Matt Duffy said of his Lab/husky mix, Winter. “She’s great entertainment all the way up. She rolls in the snow, and for the first five minutes she’s bounding up and down the trail. She’s obviously happy.”
Winter’s first backcountry skiing adventure was on Loveland Pass seven years ago. And she has been at Duffy’s side on dozens of powder-laden trails every season since.
Fat skis aren’t mandatory for furry winter fun. Many a skinny-ski enthusiast in Summit will bring a dog along on a snowy tour.
Ptarmigan resident Lacey Vonrieder takes her 3-year-old collie, Laddie, out on the Ptarmigan Trail early in the mornings before work, or even at night with a headlamp.
“It’s probably one of his favorite things,” Vonrieder said. “You can’t really go out hiking as much as in the summer, so skiing is a great thing to do together.”
On the southern side of the county, Vonrieder recommends French Creek and Boreas Pass as great spots to ski with a dog.
“You can’t beat the views on Boreas Pass – looking down over the town like that. And it’s pretty flat,” she said.
Silverthorne resident Louisa Morrissey has taken the human-dog ski partnership one step further.
“My dogs have a ton of energy, and they drove me nuts in the wintertime,” Morrissey said. “I started reading about skijoring as a great way to keep us all exercised and happy.”
In skijoring, dog and skier each wear a harness and are linked together by a Bungee lead. They work together to travel along the trail. The human half of the team can wear classic Nordic skis, skate skis or even backcountry touring skis. The skier uses a set of commands to direct stopping, starting and turning. There’s even a command to ignore squirrels, other dogs, birds, or other distractions on the trail.
“Most people do it with one or two dogs. I have gone up to four, but it’s a wild ride,” Morrissey said.
Skijoring has become a favorite activity for Morrissey’s dogs, and she said it has strengthened the dog-owner bond.
“It’s a team sport – the owners are really engaging with their dogs. After awhile, the dogs almost sense what you’re thinking, and that’s really cool,” she said.
With 10 years of skijoring under her belt, Morrissey now runs clinics for dogs and their owners at Gold Run Nordic Center in Breckenridge. Both Gold Run and Breckenridge Nordic Centers have dog-friendly trails
Skiing is an inherently risky sport. And not just for humans. So it’s important for owners to keep the risks in mind when they take their dogs along with them. Veterinarian Paul Veralli has seen his fair share of ski-related injuries at the Frisco Animal Hospital. Some of the worst result from dogs coming into contact with skis’ metal edges.
“The damage we see from dogs running into skiers ranges from minor lacerations to complete severing of tendons, potentially resulting in long-term compromise of leg function,” Veralli said. “The worst offenders are any kind of herding dogs. They get all excited, and they want to herd their owner. It gets worse in groups of skiers.”
Morrissey recommends training your dog to stay behind you while you’re skiing.
Another category of injuries comes from being out in deep snow for long periods of time. Ice balls between toes and frostbite are short-term problems to watch out for. In the long-term, joints and ligaments can suffer from repeated, intense exercise.
“Trudging through deep snow is very hard on dogs’ legs and, specifically, the knee. We see a huge number of torn ACL’s,” Veralli said.
Veralli urged owners to keep a dog’s level of exertion in mind when the owner’s speed is aided by skis, a snowboard or a bike.
“Any time you have an aid, it really puts a lot of stress on the dog. They’ll want to do whatever you ask of them and try to keep up with you. People need to be cognizant that they may be pushing their dogs too hard,” Veralli said.
And anyone taking his or her dog into avalanche terrain has to understand that dogs can get buried, and even killed, just as easily as a human can.
Dozens, if not hundreds, of products are available to keep dogs safe and comfortable on outdoor excursions. Booties can keep feet warm and prevent ice balls from forming, especially for longer-haired dogs. Waxes like Musher’s Secret can also help.
“You’ve got to get the right size booties,” said Jamie Bailey, owner of the Barnyard in Frisco. “Ideally, you should bring the dog in for a fitting and narrow down which ones will stay on the best.”
For nighttime skiers, Bailey recommends reflective vests or Velcro anklets to keep dogs visible. A wide range of canine coats and jackets can keep a pooch warm when the temperature drops.
Lastly, skiers should have the means to keep their dogs hydrated and fed, such as a collapsible bowl.
Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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