There are few things better than getting out and experiencing nature with your dog by your side. Don’t let that fun end when the winter begins! Places that you may have visited a thousand times in the warmer months are transformed during wintertime – every twist of the trail revealing new landscapes to be explored. Skiing with your dog is a great way to get exercise and fresh air during winter, while taking in some incredible views and bonding with your favorite furry friend. Here are some of our favorite tips to get you skiing smoothly!
Choose Your Style:
Classic Cross Country Skiing is a quiet walk through the woods, very similar to hiking. You can find groomed cross country trails across the Northern USA, or grab a pair of backcountry cross country skis and blaze your own trail for a more adventurous outing.
Skate Skiing is a variation of cross country skiing more akin to running or swimming – a full body workout for everyone! Skate skiing is awesome for high energy dogs because it is much faster paced than classic skiing, but it requires professionally groomed trails that may not be dog-friendly in all areas.
Things you should know:
- For both classic and skate skiing, train your pup to stay out in front or off to the side – regular poling technique could result in a nose or eye injury if they’re trailing close behind you.
- If you plan on skiing on popular trails, train your pup to step off the trail to let other recreationalists pass through. This is also a vital skill for mountain biking in the summer!
Alpine Touring is perfect for people who love to get those adrenaline fueled downhills but don’t want to leave their pup behind. Touring in the backcountry can be a great way to get beyond crowded trails and is almost always dog friendly. Be aware that traveling in the backcountry during winter can be dangerous and requires special skills and training.
Some dog-friendly ski resorts allow uphill travel in-bounds as an alternative for those worried about unsafe backcountry conditions. No downhill resorts allow dogs on the slopes during business hours, but many are dog-friendly before the lifts open for the day.
Things you should know:
- Downhill skiing is much more demanding on your dog. Start slow and make sure your pup can handle deep snow and fast descents. Be ready to carry your dog if they are having trouble on certain terrain.
- Downhill ski edges are sharp – so sharp that a split second collision can result in damage requiring stitches or even amputation. It’s important to teach your dog to give your skis a wide berth so that they don’t get nicked. If you want to be extra careful, put your pup in a “stay” at the top of the hill (or have your partner hold him) until you’ve reached the bottom.
Before You Go:
Brush Up on Trail Manners Since skiing is primarily an off-leash activity (with the exception of Skijoring, which is a completely different beast!) your dog must be under voice control. Having a good recall is vital not only for the safety of others, but also for your pup.
Having good trail manners is a necessity for people, too! If nature calls on a winter trail, pick it up (and pack it out!) Not only is trailside poo unsightly for other users and bad for the environment, but it sticks to skis. I don’t know about you, but scraping someone else’s dog poo off of the bottom of my ski does not sound like a fun time.
Plan to Stay Warm If your dog is a lumbering, double coated beast like Hilde, chances are they won’t need too much protection from the snow. (Hilde has been known to refuse to come inside at fahrenheit temps well into the negatives!) On the other hand, if your pup is small or has a lightweight coat suited for warmer temperatures, you need to take extra precautions to keep them warm and happy.
Your dog is too cold if he is:
- Shivering or trembling
- Holding up one paw, then the other, as if they are walking on hot sand
- Trying to climb on top of non-snow objects like backpacks
Banish Ice Balls In certain snow conditions, snow balls up in the fur on your pup’s paws, underbelly, and legs. These ice balls can make it difficult for your dog to walk and occasionally result in significant pain (and always end up melting into a puddle on your back seat on the way home!) To keep snowballs at bay, make sure your dog's “feathers” are neatly trimmed so that there isn’t a lot of extra hair dragging on the ground. Before you head out for your adventure, spray their legs, paws, and belly down with PAM cooking spray to keep the snow from sticking. We like to do this at the very last second before we hit the trail – otherwise they lick it all off!
If you do see ice ball buildup, use pliers on a multi-tool to break the big chunks into smaller ones and comb them out with your fingers. Do this sooner rather than later – the bigger they are, the harder they are to break!
Be Aware of Winter Danger Winter is furbearer season in many states, and if you’re recreating on public land there could be leg hold traps and neck snares set in the area. Trappers are not required to place signs declaring their traps, so it’s important to check your state’s regulations to know where and when you might encounter a trap set. Dogs are often caught in traps meant for coyote, beaver, and bobcat, requiring quick and decisive action on your part to release them.
If you live in an area with high trapping activity it is a good idea to carry wire or cable cutters (I carry mine in the form of a multi-tool) and fix a bell to your pup’s collar so that you can pinpoint their location by sound. Check out this handy PDF to learn more about how to safely release your dog from a trap.
- Bungee Leash: Though we usually keep Hilde off leash while skiing, we always carry a backup. I like a little bit of stretch to reduce the jerkiness – it’s hard to match the dog / skier rhythm and a little bit of elastic makes it more comfortable for everyone!
- Insulated Dog Coat: Keep your pup warm and dry. Especially important for the little guys who lose heat faster!
- Dog Booties: Great for dogs of all sizes and coat types – they keep paws warm, prevent ice from building up between the toes, and protect against road salt and sharp bits of ice.
- Insulated Pads: Perfect for keeping both humans and dogs warm if you need to take a break. We keep small Therm-A-Rest z-pads in our backpacks while we’re on the trail, but we love the Kurgo Loft Bed for snowy parking lots and shorter trips – the waterproof backing and insulated interior are perfect for snow.
- Dog Backpack: Make your pup carry their own booties, poop bags, and water bowl.
- Portable Bowl: Just because you’re surrounded by frozen water doesn’t mean your dog will stay hydrated. Remember to give your pup plenty of water, especially on long skis.
- Multi-tool: perfect for busting up ice balls, cutting snare wire, or fixing your skis when they break.
- Vet Wrap: Sticky, but only to itself. The best thing for wrapping cuts on dogs and humans alike
Get Out There!
Just like any new activity with your dog, set yourself up for success by keeping new experiences short and sweet. Start with easy trails and slowly work up to longer distances once you have a good handle on your dog’s stamina and temperature threshold.
Alyssa Hitchcock is passionate about dog-friendly, human powered recreation. She spends her time exploring the Western USA via backcountry and nordic skiing, mountain biking, and trail running with her husband Will and their Bernese Mountain Dog, Hilde. Visit www.outsidefound.com to read more about their adventures together.