Skijoring! Nordic skiing while being pulled by a dog is fun, thrilling
Women from Saint Michael's team have a blast during recent outing, led by a teammate who skijors with the best of them
While the racing season may be over, the Saint Michael’s Nordic Ski team is still spending time out on the trails — but we (the author of this article is a member of the team) might not be doing what you would expect. For a fun end of season activity, we gathered on Friday, March 25, at the Sleepy Hollow Ski and Bike Center to learn how to “skijor.”
Skijoring is a unique sport; it is Nordic skiing while simultaneously being pulled by a dog. The skier wears a harness around the waist that is connected to a bungee line. That line, which is about six feet long, connects to a harness on the dog. The dog then pulls the skier behind them. Skijorers typically use the skating technique as they follow their dog. Much as with dog sledding, the skier communicates with the dogs via commands.
Cambelle Nutting ’24, a member of the Saint Michael’s College Nordic ski team and a competitive skijorer, led our team in a skijoring clinic. Nutting’s dad Jay brought their two trained skijoring dogs, Cruz and Toko, down from Vassalboro, ME, so the team could learn.
In February 2022, Nutting traveled to Minneapolis MN, to compete in the Skijoring National Championships, where she ended up winning the women’s race. This year, she returned to Minneapolis where she defended her title and placed second overall (men’s and women’s). In March, Nutting competed in the Canadian Skijor National Championship in Alma Quebec where she placed third in the women’s race.
For our recent team experience, Nutting and her dad marked out a loop about one kilometer long with easy terrain for us to use. After an explanation and demonstration from Nutting and her dad, we had the chance to try it ourselves.
“It was a little stressful because the dogs were barking and pulling, and we had to explain how to do it over the dogs,” Nutting said. “I was also a little worried I scared them off because of how loud the dogs were and I crashed at the start.”
While I can confidently say we were all nervous, we were not scared off.
“Before I was extremely nervous — I didn’t even know if I was going to go because it was a little intimidating,” said Katie Culliton ’24. “Then I saw my friends do it and I knew I had to try.”
We went in pairs of two, each with our own dog, and could go as fast as allowed us to remain comfortable. Some of us skated while the dog ran, while others just went for a ride and allowed the dogs to pull them. Either way, everyone finished the loop with a big smile. “Once I started doing it, I was having so much fun. I was screaming and laughing the entire time. After I finished my body was shaking with adrenaline,” Culliton said.
The sensation of skijoring is one that is difficult to describe. “It went by so quickly, I can’t put a pin on what I was feeling,” said Lily Sabol ’24. “It honestly felt like a rollercoaster, and it was just super fun. When you were skiing the dogs would kick snow back that would come flying at your face, so you had to wear glasses.”
Nutting and her dad made skijoring look easy and graceful. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for myself. While I somehow managed to stay upright, I struggled to keep my balance. The dogs were so strong, I was shocked at how hard they pulled and how fast I went. Every time I finished a run, I had tears streaming down my face from how fast we had been going.
While we were not actively skijoring, everyone was watching and cheering on their teammates. The team would watch the skiers take off into the woods, and then eagerly wait for them to come flying around the corner and down the hill into the finish. Watching was almost as exciting as skijoring. Some of us, like Sabol and myself, started racing each other as we got more comfortable with it. “Honestly my favorite part was racing you,” said Sabol, “and it was cool to see how the dogs interact with each other, you can tell they like competing with each other.”
Despite the initial stress, Nutting had a great time skijoring with her team, “I had so much fun. I was so ecstatic and thrilled to be able to share the experience with my friends,” Nutting said. “Most of my races are far away so I was excited for them to get to see what I do.”
Skijoring is one of the coolest experiences I have had, and I am not alone when I say I want to do it again, “I would definitely do it again. I want to do a full-on race,” said Culliton.