Two great outdoor winter activities? Cross-country skiing and taking your dog out for a romp in a snow-covered field. And what if you combined the two?
The answer is skijoring, a Norwegian term that translates simply to “ski driving.”
Essentially, it’s a skiing partnership between human and animals, whether reindeer or horses or dogs (usually one or two). The first account of a human teaming up with a dog to glide across the snow was from the Altai Mountains of Central Asia, and dates back “thousands of years,” according to skijor.com.
“The basic idea of it is that the dog wears a pulling harness which is attached via a bungee line to a waist belt worn by the skier,” said Sarah Cappello, a veterinarian and skijor instructor at Gunstock Mountain Resort in Gilford, N.H. “The dog runs out in front and pulls while the skier skis.
“The dog learns to keep the line tight and run straight out in front putting pressure into the harness, while always listening back to the skier for commands,” said Cappello. “Rather than the dog just pulling the skiers dead weight around, the dog and skier work together as a team with each of them doing a percentage of the work.”
The attraction? “Its fun,” said Cappello. “It’s an incredible sport and something that you and your dog will rapidly become addicted to.”
Specific gear is required, especially a properly fitted harness, said Carissa Daniels, a financial analyst from Lynn who owns Boston Dog Adventures.
But the overall investment (in addition to traditional Nordic or skate skis and boots) is minimal.
“I like the quiet parts where it’s just you and your dogs out in the snow,” Daniels said. “But I also like the social part. We meet up with friends who also are into dog-powered sports, and do group runs.
“For me, the attraction [of skijoring] is less work,” she said with a laugh.
Daniels acknowledged that she does not ski that well, “so with my dog out there, it’s like cheating. You just have to keep yourself upright and if you get tired, you hope the dog can just pull you along.”
She got into dog-powered sports with her 40-pound rescue mix. “She’s not bred for pulling,” said Daniels. “She probably wasn’t bred with any particular purpose at all. But we started canicrossing together — that’s running in a harness — a few years ago.
“That led to everything else,” she said. “She’s the only one I’ll skijor with right now, because she’s small and doesn’t pull crazily. She kind of bebops around and it’s the right speed for me on skis.”
Cappello has identified three types of people who are drawn to skijoring.
The first group wants to combine a love of skiing with a love of exercising and being outside with their dog. The second, she said, “is often interested in dog sledding and mushing, but wants to participate in that with only one or two dogs instead of large teams. The third group is the competitive racing group who generally have small racing kennels.”
“This group either have sled teams and also skijor, or they race in skijor and other dog-powered sports, like bikejoring and canicross.”
Regardless of which group you fall into, the key to skijoring is the special relationship that participants develop with their animals. In short, said Cappello, “the dog is everything, and there would be no skijoring without the dog.
“The attraction to skijoring is ultimately about working together as a team with your dog to accomplish a goal,” she said.
“Skijoring is completely about the dog. It’s about keeping him healthy, fit, happy, and about training together. Everything in this sport is positive — the dog is trained with treats and positive reinforcement and everything is about having fun together.”
Cappello said any dog that likes to run and has energy can learn skijoring. Though it may seem that the dogs are doing the lion’s share of the work, that’s inaccurate. It’s a shared effort, and skiers need to adjust their effort to adapt to their dogs.
“Because the skier does some of the work, even small dogs can learn to run out in front and put pressure into the harness,” said Cappello. “However as they have less pulling power, the skier will be doing the majority of the work.”
And, like any team sport, the rewards of skijoring go well beyond the benefits of physical exertion.
“To get to a point where you feel like, OK, we can do this, you need to have trained your dog, worked on commands like ‘gee’ and ‘haw,’ or ‘right’ and ‘left,’” said Daniels.
‘Whoa’ is very helpful. The dog is working for you and with you. You can’t make them do it. They have to want to do it, and that’s really special.”
For more detail on Boston Dog Adventures, visit bostondogadventures.com. For detail on the skijoring program at Gunstock Mountain Resort, visit gunstock.com. Globe correspondent Brion O’Connor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.