Skiing with Dogs

| April 19, 2011

I wouldn’t want to do it all the time, but I love skiing with dogs because they have such a good time.  With many of the canyons around Salt Lake City being closed to poochies because of watershed issues, it is getting tougher to find a place to take you dogs for a powder run around here.  Luckily, our house is just over the SLC/Summit County line and has a nice sheltered, north-facing, safe,  treed run in the backyard.  It use to be just a local’s hangout, but over the years it has become known as one of the closest places you can go skiing or snowshoeing with a dog, so it has become Canine Central with people traveling 45 minutes just to ski 700′ shots.

Dog jam at the OK Corral.

Like people, dogs seem to prefer knee to thigh deep light powder or corn snow.  Crust is too tough on their shins and if it gets too deep they start wallowing.  Thigh deep on a dog is about 12″ and they appreciate a nice solid base to push off of.   The perfect pitch for them is something steep enough that they can surf through it but not so steep it is scary.   I have a special dog circuit with a few roll overs on it that dispel any question about whether dogs can smile or not – when they hit it just right, their eyes light up and they have a jowl-to-jowl canine grin that can’t be denied.

Greta poaching (or is it pooching?) Otto's line. This photo answers the question of whether or not dogs can smile, and if so, do they smile when skiing.

Snow clumps in your armpits - a small price to pay for a powder day, plus it gives you something to chew on for the next hour or so before passing out.


Dogs will usually stay in the skin/ski track if they aren’t familiar with the area, but once they’ve done it a few times it’s fun to see them develop their own lines.  Usually this means the path of least resistance back to the car, but sometimes they just go off and do their own thing while keeping an eye on you in the woods.  I’ve seen all sorts of dogs in the backcountry ranging from Jack Russel Terriers to St. Bernards.  They all seem to enjoy it, although short haired dogs need to keep moving or they get cold.  Avalanche dogs tend to be either German Sheppards or Golden Retrievers and I’ve been partial to Bernese Mountain Dogs as they thrive in the snow.  We lost our loyal ski buddy, Greta, today after 11 years and I hope she is up in doggy heaven sleeping in a deep pile of snow and surfing steep pillows.

Carl Skoog took this photo of me and Greta as part of a series he was doing based on using a cheap little camera.

Help support and send your dog into outer space with a Ruffwear Hover Craft Dog Toy from Click on the photo below…



Category: Commentary

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (18)

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  1. tavis says:

    Sorry for your loss, but a great write up on pow loving pooches! Any remedies for those gnarly dingleballs that build up underneath? My Aussies have had almost basketball sized ones, to the point they couldn’t walk.

  2. stevesliva says:

    Dogs make anything better. Sorry about Greta.

  3. Tim says:

    So sorry about the loss of your friend. My dogs absolutely LOVE to ski with me. I try to take them whenever possible. BTW, a good way to prevent the “dingle-balls” of snow on your dog is to give him/her a little spray of Pam.

  4. Bob says:

    Very sorry to hear about Greta. May she run forever in a snow-clump-free powder shot.

  5. Norm says:

    So sorry to hear about Greta. But certainly a life well lived and loved. Dogs bring so much joy into whatever they do. I love watching my chocolate lab Django making dollar signs out of my tracks- ears flapping, big stupid grin on his snow-crusted muzzle and tail windmilling in delight. Those are some of my favorite ski days. Rip In Pow Greta.

  6. Shelby says:

    So sorry for the loss of one of your life & skiing partners. Berners are truly regal beings with fantastic souls…it’s a terrible irony that they are with us for such a short time. Looks like you packed in the adventure for Greta and I’m sure she’s rolling in a snow bank in doggie heaven. Thanks for sharing.

  7. KC says:

    Lots of condolences and love to your whole pack.

    Big wags to sweet, pretty Greta, who is definitely romping through powder with Otto and Moxie and Calvin and the rest of the kind, happy beasts.

    We are so lucky to get to live among the wolves for a while.

  8. MM says:

    Sorry to hear about Greta, she was a beautiful hard charger.

  9. Drew says:

    Greta looks like she was an awesome dog!
    Bernese all the way

  10. Jimmy says:

    So sorry to hear of your loss of Greta. Having been through it a year ago with our 12yr. old lab, I can’t think of anything harder I’ve been through to date. They are the definition of unconditional friendship & love that most humans are incapable of. I learned so much about those things from our fur baby. We still refer to him as our first born. He definatly helped me prepare for real parenthood!
    I couldn’t agree more with dogs smiling. Ours was the happiest partner to be with weather it was skiing, hiking, mt.biking, I think he would have jumped out of planes with me if that’s what I was into! I think he loved any activity more than I did as long as he was doing it with me. Nothing better than that!
    Too bad they just don’t live long enough! As painful as it is, the benifits & pleasure they give in their short lives is immeasurable! We signed up for pain again in the future with a new furry knucklehead. It’ll be well worth it. They tell me the past ones will wait for us at Rainbow Bridge.
    My sincere condolences Andrew.

  11. Jimmy says:

    To Travis:
    A friend of mine sprays Pam on his dogs to minimize dingleballs. Works pretty well.

  12. Derek says:

    Another ski dog goes to ski dog heaven.

    On a side note, I got a ticket 10 years ago for “dog in canyon”, since then I’ve considered getting some sort of other mammal to ski with, because technically the signs only say “No Dogs In Canyon”. They say nothing about “no pigs” or “no goats”………….

    I currently have a three leg ski dog, but he’s pretty much a hardpack dog, not face shot dog. Oh well.

  13. Justin says:

    So sorry to hear about Greta… dogs really do change our lives.

    “Musher’s Salve” works really well for protecting dogs feet from getting balled up with snow. I’ve even used it as an emergency skin wax (not recommended)

  14. Doug says:

    That sucks – sorry for your (& family’s) loss. Agreed that dogs aren’t fit for every ski adventure, but, when they join, it is always a better day because of it. Dogs can also help towards a safer day – as I often will scale-down the difficulty of terrain on the days I bring the pup. Which tends to be high-avy days when I’m skiing low angle meadows, etc. – but still tempted to “maybe ski something bigger.”

    Travis — Musher’s Secret — great wax-based, safe for dogs, balm that you can apply to dog’s paws/legs to reduce the snow-balling. Pam works, temporarily, depending on how often the dogs stops to lick …..

  15. Doug says:

    Just picked up a book “Inside of a Dog” by Alexandra Horowitz. Shes a cognitive scientist that tries to explain how a dog perceives their daly life ie each other and us. Promises to be entertaining. caio

  16. Christine says:

    As a powderhound Berner owner myself, I have seen the pure joy on the face of this breed at the sight of snow. My sincerest condolances at the loss of Greta. Taiga will take a snowy ski run in the Rockies in her honor.

  17. d3 says:

    sigh. i <3 greta and miss her lots. but she's back at it with otto and neebs, whose cameo in the first shot is super!

  18. funhog says:

    Sorry to read about your loss of Greta. It speaks well of you to have given her such a good life, which also makes her departure much more difficult. We offer our condolences. Regardless, She lives on.

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