What Is Skijoring?

Erik Neilson
Erik Neilson
Erik Neilson
Erik Neilson

Skijoring, or 'ski driving,' is a winter sport which involves towing a skier behind horses or dogs.

Many amateur skijorers use their own dogs to tow them through the snow.
Many amateur skijorers use their own dogs to tow them through the snow.

With origins in Scandinavia, skijoring is both a rapid method of transportation, as well as a competitive winter sport in some parts of the United States—particularly the Northwest and Midwest. Especially when done with horses, skijoring is sometimes classified as an extreme sport because of the high rate of speed and potential danger involved. When carried out safely, however, skijoring can be a great deal of fun.

Who Invented Skijoring?

Competitive Skijoring with horses can be dangerous if not practiced with extreme caution.
Competitive Skijoring with horses can be dangerous if not practiced with extreme caution.

According to E. John B. Allen's The Culture and Sport of Skiing, skijoring began in Norway in the 19th century, though it was initially used as a method of speeding up the transmission of army dispatches as opposed to being viewed as a sport. As the basic principles of skijoring spread throughout the rest of the world, however, thrill-seekers and winter sports enthusiasts embraced it as a sport with open arms.

Dogs over 35 pounds are recommended as skijoring companions, such as Huskies, German Shepherds, Greyhounds and Border Collies.
Dogs over 35 pounds are recommended as skijoring companions, such as Huskies, German Shepherds, Greyhounds and Border Collies.

Competitive skijoring was even included in the Nordic Games—a predecessor of the Winter Olympics—in 1901, 1905 and 1909. Though made an Olympic demonstration sport in 1928, skijoring was never incorporated into the Olympics as a proper competitive sport despite still being popular in parts of Scandinavia and Switzerland to this day.

Did You Know?

  • Skijoring was originally intended as a way to increase the speed of communications.
  • Recreational skijoring is most commonly practiced with dogs as opposed to horses.
  • Whitefish, Montana is home to the World Skijoring Championships.

What Kind of Skis and Equipment Do You Use for Skijoring?

Skijoring originated in Scandinavia, which is present-day Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland.
Skijoring originated in Scandinavia, which is present-day Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland.

This sport requires minimal equipment: the human and animal participants along with a strap, which is hooked into harnesses worn by both human and animal. Skate skis are generally considered the best option for skijoring. The strap is usually at least 12 feet (four meters) in length, with a quick release in case of emergency. Some snow courses may restrict animal access, and enthusiasts are encouraged to check ahead to be certain that they are welcome on the slopes.

Those interested in this sport can connect with several national and international organizations which promote skijoring education and events. Lessons are advised, as the sport can be dangerous for those who are not properly educated.

How Does Skijoring With Horses Work?

Horse skijoring usually involves two people and one horse. One person rides the horse while the skier is towed behind. The rider determines the pace and route, while the skier attempts to hold on. Some horse skijoring competitions integrate jumps and extreme skiing maneuvers in addition to conventional jumps. The horses used tend to be extremely agile and quick, and breeds such as the American Quarter Horse are favored for the sport.

Skijoring with horses requires a well-coordinated team, with lots of communication between horse, rider, and skier. Many professional competitions have a complex obstacle course that the trio must navigate successfully. Points are awarded for skill, with some competitions involving small plastic rings which must be collected for points as well. Riders and skiers should wear helmets in case of collisions or accidents.

How Does Skijoring With Dogs Work?

Anyone who has ever wanted to go skiing with dogs should look no further than skijoring. When done with harness dogs, skijoring can be done with one skier and one dog, or a team of dogs. The dog must weigh at least 35 pounds (15 kilograms), or be combined with another dog for pulling power. When doing this, the dog is usually viewed as a helper, rather than the primary source of power. Recreational skijoring with dogs is very popular in the Midwest, with some skiers using it as a primary mode of transportation in the winter.

Extreme sports like skiing with horses can be an incredible experience. Skijoring can be an exciting way to take in the outdoors while getting a significant amount of exercise at the same time. Today, races are sanctioned across the country by the North American Skijoring Association.

Erik Neilson
Erik Neilson

Erik Neilson is a professional writer and editor based in Portland, ME. With 12 years of experience and a broad, diverse background, Erik provides written content of the highest quality to agencies, organizations and print/digital media outlets.

Neilson's work spans a wide range of spaces and disciplines, from copywriting in the tech, government, healthcare and energy efficiency sectors to journalism and editorial calendar development for a popular culinary arts magazine.

In his spare time, Erik enjoys cooking for friends and family, sharpening his woodworking skills and performing his original music in a live setting.

Erik Neilson
Erik Neilson

Erik Neilson is a professional writer and editor based in Portland, ME. With 12 years of experience and a broad, diverse background, Erik provides written content of the highest quality to agencies, organizations and print/digital media outlets.

Neilson's work spans a wide range of spaces and disciplines, from copywriting in the tech, government, healthcare and energy efficiency sectors to journalism and editorial calendar development for a popular culinary arts magazine.

In his spare time, Erik enjoys cooking for friends and family, sharpening his woodworking skills and performing his original music in a live setting.

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Discussion Comments

Sinbad

Skijoring sounds like a lot of fun! I have not had the opportunity to go skiing or ride a horse, so I would definitely want to learn how to do both of those activities before even attempting skijoring.

Skijoring seems like an intense and extreme sport, and seems like a sport that they may consider including in the winter Olympic games soon. It seems like something that people would like to watch and learn more about, and possibly join the sport themselves.

sunshined

I live in the Midwest and love to ski and love to ride horses and have never heard of skijoring before.

This sounds like a lot of fun and a perfect combination of two activities I love to do.

I can understand why you would want to have some skijoring training - probably as much for the rider as for the person skiing.

This makes me interested in seeing if there are any local competitions in my area. This is something I would love to go and watch before I tried attempting it myself.

Does anyone have any tips on how to best get involved with something like this?

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    • Many amateur skijorers use their own dogs to tow them through the snow.
      Many amateur skijorers use their own dogs to tow them through the snow.
    • Competitive Skijoring with horses can be dangerous if not practiced with extreme caution.
      Competitive Skijoring with horses can be dangerous if not practiced with extreme caution.
    • Dogs over 35 pounds are recommended as skijoring companions, such as Huskies, German Shepherds, Greyhounds and Border Collies.
      Dogs over 35 pounds are recommended as skijoring companions, such as Huskies, German Shepherds, Greyhounds and Border Collies.
    • Skijoring originated in Scandinavia, which is present-day Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland.
      Skijoring originated in Scandinavia, which is present-day Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland.