How to Start Skijoring: 17 Best Tips for Beginners

Skijoring is a thrilling winter sport that combines skiing with dog sledding. If you’re looking to try skijoring for the first time, you’re in for a treat.

Here’s how to start skijoring:

Start skijoring by training your dog in basic obedience, introducing skijoring-specific commands, choosing the proper equipment, practicing on flat terrain, gradually increasing challenge, cross-training, learning from experts, staying motivated, prioritizing safety, and avoiding beginner mistakes.

To help you get started, we’ve put together this listicle of 17 essential tips for beginners.

1. Choose the Right Dog Breed

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Skijoring dog - How To Start SkiJoring
I made this image – How To Start Skijoring

The first step in skijoring is finding the perfect canine companion. Not all dog breeds are suitable for this sport, so you’ll need to choose one with the strength, stamina, and eagerness to pull.

Examples of ideal skijoring breeds include:

  • Siberian Huskies
  • Alaskan Malamutes
  • Samoyeds
  • Border Collies
  • Labrador Retrievers

While these breeds are naturally adept at skijoring, any healthy, medium to a large-sized dog with a strong work ethic can potentially excel at the sport.

Just be sure to consult your veterinarian before starting skijoring to ensure your dog is up for the challenge.

2. Invest in Quality Skijoring Gear

To ensure both your and your dog’s safety and comfort, it’s essential to invest in quality skijoring gear.

This includes:

  • A comfortable dog harness: Choose a harness designed specifically for skijoring or dog sledding. It should distribute the pulling force evenly across your dog’s chest and shoulders to minimize strain.
  • A sturdy towline: A towline made of bungee material is ideal, as it will absorb shocks from your dog’s movements and prevent sudden jerks. Ensure the towline has a quick-release mechanism so you can easily detach yourself from your dog if necessary.
  • A skijoring belt: A proper skijoring belt will distribute the pulling force across your hips and provide a secure attachment point for the towline.

3. Build Up Your Dog’s Endurance

Before hitting the snow, it’s essential to build up your dog’s endurance gradually.

Start by taking your dog on long walks and runs to increase their fitness level.

Keep these ideas in mind:

  • Introduce pulling exercises: Begin with light loads, such as a small tire, and gradually increase the weight as your dog becomes more comfortable with pulling. This will help develop the necessary muscles and stamina for skijoring.
  • Monitor your dog’s progress: Pay close attention to your dog’s energy levels, breathing, and overall demeanor. If they show signs of fatigue or discomfort, take a break and adjust the intensity of their training accordingly.

4. Master Basic Cross-Country Skiing Skills

As the human half of the skijoring team, you’ll need to be a competent cross-country skier.

Before attempting skijoring, ensure you’re comfortable with:

  • Basic cross-country skiing techniques: This includes diagonal stride, double poling, and herringbone.
  • Stopping and turning: Learn how to snowplow and step-turn to maintain control on the trail.
  • Balance and stability: Improve your balance and core strength through exercises such as yoga, Pilates, or balance board training.

5. Train Your Dog to Follow Commands

Teaching your dog to follow basic commands is crucial for successful skijoring.

Start with these essential skijoring commands:

  • “Hike” or “Mush” to start moving forward
  • “Whoa” to stop
  • “Gee” for a right turn
  • “Haw” for a left turn
  • “On by” to ignore distractions and continue forward

Begin training your dog on a leash and gradually progress to using the harness and towline. Consistent practice and positive reinforcement will help your dog master these commands.

6. Start Skijoring on Flat Terrain

When you’re ready to hit the snow, choose a flat, open area with minimal distractions for your first few skijoring sessions.

This will allow both you and your dog to become comfortable with the sport before tackling more challenging terrain.

  • Select the perfect location: Look for parks, golf courses, or designated cross-country ski trails that allow skijoring. Ensure the area has ample space for you and your dog to move freely and safely. Avoid areas with steep slopes, sharp turns, or obstacles that could cause injury to you or your dog.
  • Gradually introduce more challenging terrain: As you and your dog gain confidence, begin exploring gentle slopes and slightly more difficult trails. Pay close attention to your dog’s body language and energy levels, adjusting your speed and route accordingly.

7. Use a Buddy System

Skijoring with a friend or experienced skijorer can be invaluable for beginners.

They can offer guidance, support, and help you troubleshoot any issues that arise during your initial sessions.

Benefits of the buddy system:

  • Learning from others’ experiences and techniques
  • Additional support in case of emergencies or injuries
  • Motivation and encouragement to push your limits
  • Sharing the fun and excitement of skijoring

Connect with local skijoring clubs, online forums, or social media groups to find like-minded individuals interested in skijoring together.

Make sure you and your buddy are compatible in terms of skill level, goals, and availability.

8. Keep Your Dog’s Well-being in Mind

Always prioritize your dog’s well-being during skijoring sessions.

Monitor their energy levels, provide regular water breaks, and watch for signs of injury or discomfort. Adjust your session length and intensity based on your dog’s needs and capabilities.

Signs of fatigue or discomfort:

  • Excessive panting or drooling
  • Slowing down or stopping frequently
  • Limping or favoring one leg
  • Reluctance to move forward

Preventing injuries and health issues:

  • Warm up your dog with light exercise before skijoring sessions
  • Regularly check your dog’s paws for cuts, abrasions, or ice buildup
  • Consider using protective booties to prevent paw injuries
  • Avoid skijoring in extremely cold or icy conditions

9. Practice Skijoring Etiquette

When sharing trails with other skijorers or winter sports enthusiasts, always follow proper skijoring etiquette:

  • Yield the right-of-way to other trail users
  • Maintain a safe distance from other skijorers and their dogs
  • Keep your dog under control at all times
  • Clean up after your dog

Communicating with other trail users: Clear communication is essential for maintaining safety and harmony on shared trails. Use verbal cues, hand signals, or a whistle to alert others to your presence and intentions.

Respecting trail rules and regulations: Always adhere to the posted rules and regulations for the area in which you’re skijoring. This may include leash laws, designated skijoring areas, or specific hours of operation.

10. Dress Appropriately for the Weather

Invest in high-quality winter clothing that will keep you warm and dry during your skijoring adventures.

This includes moisture-wicking base layers, insulated outer layers, waterproof gloves, and warm socks.

Dressing in Layers

Layering allows you to easily adjust your clothing to match your activity level and the changing weather conditions.

Start with a moisture-wicking base layer to keep sweat away from your skin, followed by an insulating middle layer for warmth, and finish with a waterproof outer layer to protect against wind and snow.

Protecting Your Extremities

Cold fingers and toes can quickly ruin a skijoring outing.

Invest in high-quality gloves or mittens, warm socks, and insulated boots to keep your extremities warm and dry.

A hat or headband will help protect your ears from the cold and wind, while a neck gaiter or balaclava can provide additional warmth and coverage.

11. Gradually Increase the Challenge

As you and your dog become more comfortable with skijoring, gradually introduce more challenging terrain and longer distances.

This will help you both build strength, endurance, and confidence in the sport.

Additional helpful guidelines:

  • Setting realistic goals: Develop a training plan that outlines progressive goals for you and your dog. Consider factors such as your current fitness levels, experience, and available time for training. Regularly reassess your progress and adjust your goals as needed.
  • Tracking your progress: Keep a training log or use a fitness tracking app to monitor your skijoring sessions. This can help you identify areas for improvement and celebrate milestones and achievements.

12. Cross-Train for Improved Performance

Incorporating cross-training activities into your fitness routine can help improve your overall skijoring performance.

Focus on exercises that build strength, endurance, balance, and agility:

  • Strength training: Include exercises that target the major muscle groups used in skijoring, such as your legs, core, and upper body. Examples include squats, lunges, planks, and push-ups.
  • Endurance training: Cardiovascular activities like running, cycling, or swimming can help improve your aerobic fitness, making it easier to maintain a steady pace during skijoring sessions.
  • Balance and agility training: Incorporate balance and agility drills, such as single-leg exercises, ladder drills, or plyometrics, to improve your stability and reaction time on the snow.

13. Learn from the Experts

Seek out opportunities to learn from experienced skijorers, trainers, or coaches.

They can provide invaluable advice, tips, and techniques that can help you progress more quickly in the sport.

Here’s how to learn from the experts:

  • Attending skijoring clinics and workshops: Many skijoring clubs or organizations offer instructional sessions led by experienced skijorers. These events can provide hands-on learning opportunities and personalized feedback to help you refine your skills.
  • Watching online tutorials and videos: There are numerous online resources, such as YouTube tutorials and blog articles, that can help you learn more about skijoring techniques, gear, and training. Study these resources and apply what you’ve learned to your own skijoring practice.

14. Stay Motivated and Enjoy the Journey

Like any sport, skijoring has its challenges and learning curve.

Stay focused on your goals, celebrate your achievements, and enjoy the unique bonding experience with your dog.

Examples of how to do it:

  • Set personal milestones: Identify specific milestones that you’d like to achieve in your skijoring journey, such as completing a particular trail, participating in a race, or mastering a new technique. Celebrate these milestones and use them as motivation to continue improving.
  • Share your experiences: Connect with fellow skijorers through clubs, online forums, or social media to share your experiences, ask questions, and offer encouragement. This sense of community can help keep you motivated and excited about your skijoring adventures.
  • Embrace the learning process: Accept that there will be challenges and setbacks along the way, and use them as opportunities to grow and learn. Stay patient, practice regularly, and maintain a positive attitude to make the most of your skijoring experience.

15. Prioritize Safety

As with any outdoor sport, safety should always be a top priority when skijoring.

Taking the necessary precautions can help you avoid accidents and injuries for both you and your dog.

Here’s how to prioritize safety:

  • Check equipment regularly: Before each skijoring session, inspect your gear for signs of wear or damage, including frayed towlines, loose buckles, or damaged harnesses. Replace or repair any damaged equipment to ensure your safety on the trails.
  • Know your limits: Be realistic about your abilities and those of your dog. Avoid taking on terrain or distances that are beyond your current skill level, and always listen to your body and your dog’s signals to prevent overexertion or injury.
  • Carry essential safety items: Pack a small safety kit that includes items such as a whistle, a small first-aid kit, a spare towline, a multi-tool, and a headlamp or flashlight. These items can help you respond to emergencies or unexpected situations on the trail.

16. Be Prepared for the Elements

Weather conditions can change rapidly during winter, so it’s essential to be prepared for a variety of situations when skijoring.

Proper planning and preparation can help you stay safe and comfortable on the trails.

Prepare yourself like this:

  • Check the weather forecast: Before heading out, always check the local weather forecast for your skijoring location. Be prepared to adjust your plans if necessary, and avoid venturing out during extremely cold weather, heavy snowfall, or high winds.
  • Adapt to different snow conditions: Different snow conditions, such as fresh powder, packed snow, or icy surfaces, can impact your skijoring experience. Learn how to adapt your skiing techniques and equipment to match the conditions and ensure a more enjoyable outing.

17. Encourage a Positive Skijoring Experience for Your Dog

A positive experience for your dog is key to successful skijoring.

By reinforcing good behavior and making skijoring sessions enjoyable, your dog will be more likely to embrace the sport and perform well.

Here’s how to encourage a positive experience:

  • Use positive reinforcement: Reward your dog with treats, praise, or affection when they follow commands or exhibit desirable behavior during skijoring sessions. This will help them associate skijoring with positive experiences and encourage them to continue participating.
  • Provide regular breaks and rest: Allow your dog to rest and recover during skijoring sessions, especially during long outings or when they are first learning. Regular breaks give your dog a chance to catch their breath, drink water, and maintain their enthusiasm for the activity.

Here is a great video about how to start skijoring with your dog:

YouTube video by SAMA – How to start skijoring

Skijoring Getting Started Plan

To help you get started with skijoring, here’s a simple, step-by-step plan with suggested timeframes.

Feel free to adjust the plan to suit your individual needs, schedule, and progress.

1Basic Obedience TrainingIntroduce fundamental commands to your dog, such as “sit,” “stay,” “come,” and “heel.”
2-3Skijoring Command TrainingIntroduce skijoring-specific commands like “hike,” “gee,” “haw,” “easy,” and “whoa.”
4Introducing Harness and TowlineFamiliarize your dog with the harness and towline by letting them wear it during walks or playtime.
5Dryland Training (no skis)Practice commands and pulling while walking or running behind your dog.
6-7Skiing Skills DevelopmentImprove your cross-country skiing skills without your dog to ensure you have good balance and control.
8First Skijoring SessionBegin skijoring on flat terrain, practicing commands, and building confidence.
9-10Gradual ProgressionIncrease distance, speed, and terrain difficulty as you and your dog become more comfortable.
11Buddy SystemSkijor with a friend or experienced skijorer to get advice, support, and feedback.
12Continue TrainingKeep refining your skills, setting new goals, and enjoying the skijoring experience.
Chart: How to start skijoring 12-week plan

Top Mistakes Beginners Make in Skijoring

When starting out in skijoring, it’s common to make some mistakes.

Being aware of these common pitfalls can help you avoid them and progress more smoothly in your skijoring journey.

  • Overestimating fitness levels: Beginners often overestimate their own or their dog’s fitness levels, leading to overexertion and potential injury. Start with shorter distances and slower speeds, and gradually increase the intensity as you both become more comfortable and fit.
  • Skipping proper training: It’s essential to invest time in training your dog to follow commands and work as a team. Skipping this step may result in confusion, frustration, and a less enjoyable skijoring experience for both you and your dog.
  • Not using appropriate gear: Using ill-fitting or inappropriate gear can cause discomfort, injury, or decreased performance. Invest in high-quality, skijoring-specific equipment to ensure your safety and your dog’s comfort.
  • Ignoring weather conditions: Venturing out in very cold or windy weather is dangerous for both you and your dog. Always check the weather forecast before heading out and adjust your plans if necessary.
  • Not respecting trail etiquette: Failing to follow proper trail etiquette can lead to conflicts with other skijorers or trail users. Always yield the right-of-way, maintain a safe distance, and keep your dog under control.
  • Neglecting your dog’s well-being: It’s crucial to monitor your dog’s health and well-being during skijoring sessions. Ignoring signs of fatigue, injury, or discomfort can lead to more severe issues and a negative experience for your dog.
  • Focusing too much on speed or distance: While it’s natural to want to improve and challenge yourself, focusing solely on speed or distance can detract from the overall enjoyment of skijoring. Prioritize fun, bonding with your dog, and skill development over merely trying to break records.

By being mindful of these common beginner mistakes, you can set yourself up for success in your skijoring journey, creating a positive and enjoyable experience for both you and your dog.

Essential Skijoring Equipment for Beginners

To get started with skijoring, you’ll need some specific equipment for both you and your dog.

Investing in high-quality gear will ensure safety, comfort, and better performance on the trails. Don’t gloss over this important factor in successful skijoring.

For Your Dog

  • Skijoring Harness: A well-fitted, padded harness designed for pulling sports is crucial. This will distribute the pulling force evenly across your dog’s chest and shoulders, preventing discomfort or injury.
  • Towline: A strong, elastic towline is used to connect your dog’s harness to your belt. It should be long enough to maintain a safe distance between you and your dog but not too long to cause tangling or tripping hazards.
  • Booties (optional): Some dogs may benefit from wearing protective booties to prevent snow buildup between their paw pads or protect them from sharp ice and rough terrain.

For You

  • Skijoring Belt: A comfortable, well-fitted waist belt designed for skijoring will help distribute the pulling force and provide stability. Most belts also have a quick-release feature for added safety.
  • Cross-Country Skis: Lightweight, cross-country skis with a good grip on the bottom are suitable for skijoring. Choose a pair appropriate for your skill level and the type of terrain you’ll be skiing on.
  • Ski Poles: Ski poles help you maintain balance, control, and momentum while skijoring. Choose poles with comfortable grips and the correct length for your height.
  • Winter Apparel: Dress in layers to stay warm and dry during skijoring sessions. This includes moisture-wicking base layers, insulating middle layers, and waterproof outer layers. Don’t forget accessories like gloves, hats, and neck gaiters for added protection.

Having the proper equipment is essential for a safe and enjoyable skijoring experience.

Take the time to research and invest in high-quality gear that will last and provide the necessary comfort and performance for you and your dog.

Here are some of my favorite skijoring equipment:

Skijoring EquipmentMost Recommended
HarnessNeewa Sled Pro Harness
TowlineNeewa Tug Line with Bungee
Skijoring SystemRuffwear Dog Joring System (Belt, Harness, Tug line)
Cross-Country Ski PackageCross Country Ski Package (Skis, Poles, Boots, Bindings)
Winter Apparel (Men)Skijoring Pants
Winter Apparel (Women)Skijoring Pants
Best Skijoring equipment table

Final Thoughts: How to Start Skijoring

This guide should get you started with skijoring.

For even more about skijoring and skiing, check out some of our other great articles listed below. I think you’ll enjoy them.

Read more:

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