Skijoring Is Basically Dog Sledding, Minus the Sled

It's the winter sport of champions (and their best friends).

JMichl/ E+/ Getty Images
JMichl/ E+/ Getty Images
JMichl/ E+/ Getty Images

You might be familiar with less-beloved winter sports, having tuned into enough Winter Olympics to retain a few sound bites about curling or skeleton racing. Maybe you’re even an aficionado of the obscure art of ski ballet. But that doesn’t mean you’re familiar with skijoring, which begs the question: Do you really love your dog?

Skijoring comes from the Norwegian skikjøring, or “ski driving.” Basically, you’re standing on cross-country skis, holding a rope, the other end of which is attached to a dog, a couple of dogs, or a horse if you’re particularly hardcore. According to Nancy Knutson, director of marketing and communications for the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation, skijoring has been around for centuries, going back to a time when animals and skis were both commonly used for basic transportation.

In less traditional interpretations, you can even use a car. (So basically, that time I careened around on a sled towed by my best friend’s car was not just stupid, but ahead of its time.)

Is skijoring a thing in the US?

Competitive skijoring is very much a thing, and has been happening in the US for at least the past century. It’s never quite broken into the mainstream, but you can watch skijoring races at family-friendly festivals like Minnesota’s Great Northern, which is still on for 2021 as of press time. In recent years, winter-getaway travel destinations have also added skijoring to their offerings. Horse-skijoring can involve either a second person riding the horse, or in some cases the skijorer going it alone. Whitefish, Montana, hosts the annual World Championship each January, though unseasonable weather derailed it last year.

Every February in Hayward, Wisconsin, you can find skijorers and their Very Good Dogs racing down Main Street in the annual Barkie Birkie Skijor. For newbies, know that dog-skijoring is a bit more feasible because folks are more likely to have the requisite equipment. Which leads to the next question:

©American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation/Netz Photography
©American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation/Netz Photography
©American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation/Netz Photography

Wait, I can skijor with my own dog?

We now turn to the question everyone is itching to ask-the answer is yes, as any dog owner who has encountered a squirrel while cross-country skiing can attest.

Those of you wishing to BYOD will need a pup weighing at least 30lbs (preferably 35) that is at least one year old and generally healthy. You yourself should be at least somewhat comfortable on cross-country skis. You can check out a breakdown of the standard equipment here.

“If heading out on your own, look for dog-friendly parks with multi-use trails or trails that have not already been groomed specifically for cross-country skiers,” Knutson advises.

And for everyone else who wants to take the guesswork and/or animal ownership out of the equation, you can try one of these.

Triple Creek Ranch, Montana
Equestrian skijoring, like equestrian everything, is a bit more prevalent in Montana than it is most other places in the country. No matter their skill level, guests at Triple Creek-near Montana’s western border-can try skijoring behind a horse as one of the ranch’s all-inclusive activities.

The Resort at Paws Up, Montana
This 37,000-acre resort surrounded by dense national forest land recently introduced skijoring to its guests, boasting a trail specifically designed for competitive training, resembling an obstacle course of sorts. Guests ages 12 and up can try an hour and a half of equestrian skijoring for $200.

Devil’s Thumb Ranch, Colorado
For those of you wanting to try skijoring with a dog (yours) rather than a horse (any), this ranch will rent you doggy-skijoring equipment for $20, plus regular clinics you can take to improve your skills. Enjoy the many miles of trails nestled around the base of Colorado’s Continental Divide.

Loppet Foundation, Minnesota
If you can provide your own skis and dog, expert skijorer Torrey Swanson will lead you in an introductory session (free; don’t need the dog yet) followed by a session out on the snow ($40; you may fetch your dog now).

Kastalia Medrano is a New York-based journalist and avid traveler. Follow her @kastaliamedrano.


Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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