When Jerry Thompson attended the Birkebeiner cross-country ski race last year in Hayward, he saw first-hand what fun skijoring can be and brought the idea back for the Iola Winter Carnival.
“We needed something new, something to do before the ski-shoeing event,” he said. “I thought that this looked like a lot of fun. It’s not only great exercise for the skier, but their dog as well. I thought it would be a great addition and would add a little something different.”
So what is skijoring?
“Skijoring is a sport which combines cross-country skiing and dog power,” Thompson said. “The skier and dog work as a team and go out together on a ski course. The skier ends up going as fast as the dog runs. The dog wears a harness that goes around their chest. A tether strap goes from that harness to the skier, who wears a belt harness. The tether strap has elastic in it, so when the pulling happens, there is no jerking motion.”
Seven competitors gathered Feb. 1 at the Iola Winter Sports Club complex to show off their skills in an exhibition event.
Don Baumgartner and his dog Nikita, of New London, were two of the competitors this year.
“Let’s face it, when you get old, you need a dog to help you,” Baumgartner said. “I have never raced before, so I thought I would try something new.”
“I just wanted to try it,” Dawn Lashua of Iola said. “I think it’s great that they added this event to the Winter Carnival.”
“Last weekend I raced in Merrill, so this is the second race I have competed in,” Jessica Olsen of Madison said. “A lot of people think that the dogs don’t want to pull, but once they get to the line, you can see in their faces that they want to do this.”
She was definitely right.
As Olsen approached the starting line, her dogs Etan and Beckett jumped and bark with excitement. Olsen had to call the duo back to the line numerous times before they started.
Olsen was one of two racers that came with some experience and used basic commands with her dogs.
“Gee means right, haw means left and on by means go past,” she said. “It’s something that we have to work on and we practice even when we go for walks.”
Jim Foreman of Wild Rose was probably one of the most talked-about racers on the course. He showed up to race with Kitty, his 140-pound bull mastiff.
“I learned that it was a sport just yesterday,” he said. “I had the skis, I had the dog, so I thought, ‘Why not, just go for it.’”
And go for it, he did.
Kitty was not quite sure what was expected when it was their turn in the staggered start.
Foreman tried to get the dog running, but Kitty had a mind of her own and just walked from the line. The crowd gave a little cheer as Kitty finally began to move faster, only to run around Foreman and pull him to the ground.
As other teams entered the starting chutes, dogs exchanged friendly barks at one another as their ropes become entangled around ski poles and once in awhile even their skier. People were knocked to the ground by their four-legged counterparts that were excited to start the race. Spectators watched to see just what the event was all about.
It may not have been the picture-perfect start, but after a few minutes, the teams were off and running.
Some of the participants knew just what to do, while others racers still struggled out of the gate.
As they made their way to the halfway mark, instead of going around the bend, some of the four-legged friends decided to greet spectators cheering along the course. Others were quickly catching on to what was expected of them and the whipped on by.
Spectators were still buzzing and were now were wondering who would come in first.
Madison’s Hawkin Zukowski and Kona brought home the first-place finish with a time of 9:34. Other finishers and their times are Thompson (11:19), Jason Kinziger (11:37), Olsen (11:53), Glen Coenen (13:18), Baumgartner (13:36), Lashua (15:37) and Foreman (24:01).
“Skiing with your dog is the best,” Zukowski said. “Most places don’t allow you to have dogs at them, so when the opportunity arises, I go for it. The Iola Winter Sports Club is a top-notch place.
“I did not even know this place existed,” Olsen said. “This place is awesome. What a great opportunity for new racers to try or to simply come and see and ask questions. It really takes guts to put on an event like this, when people really don’t know much about it.”
“Iola has this hidden treasure out here at the ski hill,” Lashua said. “Some of the locals don’t even know about it. I hope to see the skijoring continue in the years to come. Maybe even one day they will have a trail system where we can do this all the time.”