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Learn to Fly... And Return to Earth

Alternative to extreme, some sporting ideas for winter

(page 5 of 5)


“A refreshingly different sport . . .”

Back on earth, some choose to spend their days with their best friends, and sometimes this means their animals.

For those interested in alternative activities, there’s always equestrian-style skijoring. In the Wood River Valley, there are annual competitions held (usually either in January or February, and just south of Bellevue) in which horseback riders and skijorers partner up to compete for a cash purse for the fastest team.

Valley resident Tyler Peterson, a former competitor (he was a horseman), now heads the Wood River Extreme Ski Joring Association, the Valley’s local satellite of the North American Ski Joring Association (NASJA), which hold races in Canada, and as far away as New Hampshire.

“It’s a great sport,” Peterson says, “and it gives the community the chance to be part of a refreshingly different sport during the winter that is surprisingly open to all levels. You see a lot of fresh faces every year.”

Peterson says each satellite organization in each city chooses its own track, which may vary in length and difficulty (not to mention to-be-determined weather conditions) as long as the tracks meet NASJA requirements. Horse and rider are charged with pulling the skier at breakneck (or not) speed through a course of jumps and poles with rings that must be captured for points on the final score.

“Entries race toward a purse,” Peterson says, “and the host organizations try to sweeten the pot” by chipping in extra cash for the top finisher.

Those who don’t win the purse can go home with other prizes, like belt buckles or vests, and proceeds raised from each competition go to a notable cause in the communities that host the events.

With dogs, the skier balances with poles, on either classic skis or skate skis, and lets their pet pull them away. It’s certainly not an extreme winter sport, but it can be for a minute or two if your dog is really, really fast.

Old-time residents and tourists who hit Sun Valley’s slopes in the 1970s might remember Hurley Hamilton, owner of Thunderpaws Pet Shoppe.

Hamilton and her husband used to have a team of sledding dogs known as The Thunderpaws Express, which offered rides about town to tourists, and performed at special events.

And while Hamilton says that sledding dogs are the best skijoring dogs, skijoring can be done with any dog. Besides, she says, it is supposed to be casual and fun.

All you need is a harness, which are affordable and are available at Hamilton’s store, a long, strong leash, a pair of skis—either classic or skate—and a destination. “You can go on any trails around town that allow dogs on them,” Hamilton says, “from Sun Valley to Galena and all points in between.

“You can use one dog, or you can use three,” she says, then jokes, “but dogs numbering 10 is probably too many.” After all, to skijor well, you’ve got to have command over at least one dog.

Hamilton says there are many things to take into consideration when skijoring with your dog, all of which have to do with the dog.

“Know your animal and vary your speed,” she says, noting that variations in your dog’s speed may be an indicator that it needs a breather. And while she says there are commands specific to the sport of skijoring, using commands the dog is familiar with is best for the casual skijorer.

Another important thing to keep in mind, she says, is to be aware if there are other dogs around. If your dog wants to greet another dog, you could become ensnared and entangled in the leash. Also, “If the leash isn’t long enough and you ski into the dog from behind, you’ll find they won’t run in front of you anymore.”

There is an organized canine “skijoring” event in the Valley once a year: the “Paw ‘n’ Pole,” a 1.5k “run” at the new Sun Valley gun club, where as many as 150 people show up to ski with their dogs and to raise money for the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley. It’s a casual event all about being out in the snow with your dog.


Chad Walsh is a freelance writer soon to be based out of Portland, much to the chagrin of this magazine’s editor, who enjoyed his way with words.



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