How to Ski with Your Dog

At the beginning of the pandemic, I signed up to help foster puppies or kittens while I was at home. A few months later, in September 2020, a 17-week-old, black, tan and white mixed breed puppy came up on the foster list from the Navajo Nation. I emailed our local shelter back immediately and the next day, went to pick up “Lila” for a two-week foster period. 

From the minute we met, we bonded. I knew it would be hard to give her back after two weeks of fostering, but I wasn’t sure if my lifestyle was appropriate for a dog! Being a professional skier involves long days spent training in remote areas not suitable for dogs and travel for long stretches of time. Would it work to share my life and passion for skiing with her?

During the foster period, I put her into different situations to see how she reacted and see if she could fit into our lives. She passed test after test. She was great with children, she played well with other dogs, and my family loved her. After figuring out the details, I made it official and adopted Lila, adding a new member to our family!  

I wasn’t the only one. Animal shelters were emptied out throughout the pandemic, as families opened their homes to fosters. According to Shelter Animals Count, euthanasia went down 43% thanks to decreased intake, expanded fostering, and an increase of pets finding homes during the first half of 2020. Shelters couldn’t keep up with the demand for adoption. Rescue Animals became Time Magazine’s 2020 Pet of the Year. 

 As the fall turned to winter, I knew I wanted to take her skiing. We practiced commands on and off-leash on dirt trails, and got her used to wearing dog booties to protect her feet. Once we were on skis, deep snow added a new element of challenge. Our first-time skiing with her was after a fresh snowfall, and the powder was knee deep. Lila is a medium sized dog and struggled as the snow was neck deep on her. Not knowing what to do in this cold, fluffy new element, Lila ran on top of our skis to stay afloat, which is exactly where we didn’t want her. I’ve heard horror stories of dogs sustaining injuries from ski edges, and wanted to be careful to protect my little pup.  

She got more comfortable in the deep snow, but it was clear we needed to teach her a command to avoid our skis. We talked to our trainer, Melissa Jackson from Juniper Trails Dog Training. She helped us teach Lila a command called “get out” at home. First, Lila would sit, and as we moved closer to her, we’d say “get out.” The moment she moved back, we’d say “yes,” and reward her with her favorite treat; freeze dried chicken livers. After practicing at home, we took Lila skiing again. Lila knew to get out of the way of our skis and we had an amazing time! 

When training your dog as a ski companion, it’s important to start slow. Pay attention to snow conditions. If it’s deep powder, teach your dog to follow ski tracks so they don’t have to break trail. In breakable crust, keep your ski session shorter, because it can put a lot of strain on their joints. Inspect their paws and practice using dog booties to protect them from ski edges and use wax to keep paws from cracking. A snow jacket designed for dogs will also keep them warm and dry.  

Keep the outings short and build your way up! Slow down and check in with your dog on the downhill and look for signs of stress. Dogs are pack animals and as your owner, you are their pack. It can cause quite a bit of anxiety when you are speeding down the trail and they can’t keep up. Make extra turns or stop every few minutes so they can catch up and stay with the pack. Consider using a harness with a handle in case you need to pick them up to go over any obstacles. Refuel together when you get home by adding some bone broth or another tasty treat to their water to make sure your dog is rehydrated.  

Lila is almost a year old now, and when I take her skiing, I make sure it’s about her more than me. She can accompany me on some of my outings, but it’s still not appropriate to bring her for an all-day tour to cover many miles or vertical feet. But when we do go skiing together, there is no better feeling in the world than having my furry, best friend share the adventure.