For dog lovers in the mountains, one of the most rewarding experiences is bringing your pooch along for the ride. People take their dogs on hikes, bike rides, ski tours and even out on the lake with their canoes and stand up paddleboards. Being that we’re in mid-winter right now, backcountry outings usually involve travelling over snow. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up four tips on ski touring with dogs on your next adventure.
1. Invest time in training
One of the biggest dangers of skiing with your dog are the very sharp edges on skis and snowboards. When descending, your dog needs to obey the sit command and await your command to follow. Start by rehearsing on dryland and introducing Buddy to small ski slopes first. When skiing in the powder, Buddy will be slowed down by the snow so he can run behind you, safely away from your ski edges. When traversing or skiing on logging roads, Buddy needs to heel and follow closely behind you. For more tips on backcountry with canines, check out this article on teaching your dog how to ski.
2. Start small
Remember you need to treat Buddy as another member of the party, so taking him along for a 10 hour day trip on his first outing probably isn’t the best start. Put in some time doing solo ski touring with just your dog to gauge his endurance and stamina. Remember dogs can bonk from exhaustion as well, so slowly ramp up the length of his ski touring outings in distance and vertical. More skiers or boarders in the group also means more edges in the snow that can slice up poor Buddy’s paws, so keep the group size small.
3. Get equipped
Your pack is probably heavy enough as it is, but Buddy also needs his own supply of food and water to make it through a big day in the mountains. Dehydrated dog food is expensive but conveniently light. Remember a dog needs to drink from a bowl, not a bottle. This not only keeps them hydrated, but also helps in protecting our dogs in winter.
A well-built dog pack lets Buddy lift his fair share of the load. My Samoyed wolfdog dog Link wears the Canine Equipment Ultimate Trail Pack with removable saddlebags (which I carry for the descent) and doubles as a lifting harness. Powder snow can also clump in and around the paws when ski touring with dogs, so it’s worth investing in a sturdy set of booties that won’t fall off easily. Lastly, be prepared for an accident with a First Aid kit in case he does have an encounter with a ski edge.
4. Be ready to leave your dog at home
Some days it’s probably the best decision for you (and Buddy) that he stays at home. If the avalanche danger is a concern that day, your focus needs to be on the environment around you and your party. As cute and loyal as the pooches are, they can distract you from potential hazards such as avalanches, crevasses and fall danger. If you want the ultimate in backcountry peace of mind for Buddy, pick up the Pieps TX600, an avalanche transmitter that pings on a separate frequency from normal avalanche transceivers. That way if the slide happens, you can prioritize extracting your human companions first. Mind that the TX600 is only compatible with the Pieps DSP transceivers.
Ski touring with dogs can be some of the most rewarding days in the mountains. Just make sure the both of you are ready before heading out too deep into the backcountry.