By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Even in sub-zero temperatures, man and man’s best friend still find a good reason to get out together, in the cold.

In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen shows us how and why the sport of skijoring has become so popular in our state.

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Not even a mid-winter deep freeze can keep a good dog down. Baella is a 6-year-old cattle dog mix. She and her owner Jonathan Thompson are a formidable skijoring team. It’s a sport that helps the winter go by a little faster.

“She’s a little bit smaller than what you see in most competitive dogs, but she’s very strong and sturdy,” said Thompson.

Skijoring has a history that dates back centuries. There’s some evidence that it was in China several centuries ago as well as Scandinavian countries; dogs were pulling skiers for transportation purposes, said Thompson.

Horses and caribou have also been known to pull skiers. Here in Minnesota, the modern version came about in the 1980s when two women — one a dog musher and the other a cross country skier — helped create skijoring as we know it.

(credit: CBS)

“I think the Twin Cities was a great spot for it because one, we have a huge Nordic community that embraces outdoor winter recreation, but also we have a big dog-loving population, and so bringing those together was sort of a natural fit,” said Thompson.

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The equipment is relatively basic; a harness, a bungee, and a skijoring belt that fits comfortably around the waist. But you have to be good on skis. And you have to have a dog that isn’t easily distracted.

But for 3K, 5K and even 10K races, the dogs and their humans are locked in.

Commands like “gee” and “haw,” which mean right and left, can be heard across the winter air. The pack, for races like as recent one at Hyland Hills, has grown a lot over the past, couple of years.

“We saw a huge influx of people adopting dogs, COVID rescue dogs. And now they’re looking for an outlet for them in the winter,” said Thompson.

There’s no doubt that they have it. In the summer, Jonathan and Baella do bikejoring and canicross to get ready. But it’s not quite the same. Dogs like Baella live for winter.

“It’s just a thrill that you can’t describe. When you bring all the components of skiing, the dog training and all the equipment together into one, it makes for sort of a magical experience. It’s really indescribable,” said Thompson.

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Thompson and Baella race about four times a winter.

John Lauritsen