Published online: Feb 23, 2017 Articles, East Idaho Outdoors, Family Fun Guide Nikki Siegel
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Snow and ice—generally these two winter hazards aren’t a dog-walker’s favorites. They’re definitely not mine.

Since skating down our driveway, helplessly hanging onto our 10-month-old lab’s leash as he bounded forward, my husband and I decided to stop fighting the winter chill and embrace it. Our solution? Cross-country skiing, a potentially dog-friendly sport that is considerably easier on the knees than downhill.

As it would turn out, renting a pair of skis with the matching boots and poles is only $15 a day from Idaho Mountain Trading. So, with our skis, boots, poles and a couple extra family members loaded up in the SUV, we headed to the Harriman Hounds Trail for an adventure.

Throughout our snowy venture, I learned some valuable lessons about gear, trails and dogs:

Everyone should be in charge of his or her own skis, poles and boots. Or the trip will cost you about three times more than it would have originally.

As we were in charge of getting everyone to Harriman, we had asked my sister and nephew to drop off their skis and poles the night before. Unbeknownst to us, they’d also left their boots with us, causing the boots to be left behind and them to have to rent another pair each. As it would turn out, not all ski boots fit the skis, so after reaching the trailhead they had to go back to the local shop and rent another pair of skis each, tripling their original costs.

When we returned our gear to Idaho Mountain Trading and related our story, the man flashed us a sympathetic, but knowing smile: “Every person should always be in charge of their own skis, poles and boots.”

Don’t put your skis on in the parking lot; wait until you reach the trail head.

This is another great nugget from the folks at Idaho Mountain Trading, and thankfully one that I didn’t have to learn the hard way. Although, to be perfectly honest, I was sincerely tempted to ignore their sage advice and test out those skis right away. The parking lot snow seems deceptively smooth to the novice, and it isn’t until you actually reach the soft snow of the trail that you realize just how dumb that would have been.

Those two deep ruts in the trail are there for you to ski in.

All of you out there instinctually smarter than I am probably didn’t need to be told this (or most of this story, come to think of it), but I originally tried moving forward without the ruts and it didn’t work out so well. (We can skip the part where I fall down and we all laugh.) The ruts in the trail are conveniently cut so skiers can move forward quickly in a straight line without worry that their skis might go astray.

Dogs only pull when they’re not supposed to.

Our ten-month-old yellow lab, Mortimer, is a puller. He frequently dedicates all 80 pounds of himself to making sure we get to where he wants to go, and fast. Figuring we should use this to our advantage, we bought a harness and a 20 foot line for the trail so Mortimer could pull my husband while he skied.

We got Mortimer all hitched up on the trail and he would walk, but he wouldn’t do anything to make the line tight… until he tried going backwards and slipped right out of the harness we thought we’d sufficiently tightened.

An over-exuberant lab puppy will go 4 to 5 times the distance you will if you trust him enough to be off-leash.

With the harness option in the can, we opted to let him off-leash once we were a little ways into the trail. He bounded back and forth on the trail, swimming in the deep snow and leaving a swirly signature wherever he went, but he always came back to make sure that we were “following him.” This turned out to be the best scenario for all parties involved as it allowed us to focus on our own skis and him to go four to five times the distance we did. Needless to say, he slept the entire trip home.

You generate a lot of heat as you ski, making all those layers you put on in the parking lot less of a good idea.

It only took about 5 minutes in for us to shed about a third of the layers we wore. Remember that while you might be really cold in the parking lot, you’ll be working up a sweat on the trail. If you're worried about it, just remember to layer and you’ll be fine.

Don’t put your gloves on the ground when your dog’s favorite game is Keep Away.

As the DP (Designated Photographer) for the trip, I was constantly taking off my thick winter gloves to get some snapshots of our surroundings. Out of convenience, I would drop the gloves by my feet to get them out of the way. Although distracted by the mounds of snow to swim in and the extra people to annoy, Mortimer saw his chance, and suddenly we were playing an intense version of his favorite game, Keep Away, where he would wade out into the 5 foot drifts, my glove in his mouth, and dare us to come after him.

I finally traded him a large Milk-Bone biscuit for the glove, but was careful to keep my gloves out of snatching distance for the rest of the stops.

The snow on the sides of the trail is probably deceptively deep.

Out of sheer curiosity, several of us tried putting one ski-less leg into the deep side drifts (they really don’t look that deep from the trail). All those who tried it instantly sunk to their waists in snow. I would strongly caution against putting both feet in, or you might not be able to climb out again easily.

In the car ride home, while enjoying some hot chocolate and sandwiches after hours on the trail, my nephew had to get the last word in.

“So you could say the trip was…” he cracked his 13-year-old goofy grin, “Skiwampus?”

Yes, Benj. You could say it was skiwampus. Why is my nephew making dad jokes at his young age? I swear the internet is aging kids in puns beyond their years.

For all of you out there interested in skiing but not-so interested in going it alone, consider the annual Harriman Cross-Country Ski Instructional put on by Idaho Mountain Trading. The trip, happening this next Sunday, is $45 per person and includes a round-trip bus ride, a two and a half hour instructional from P.S.I.A. certified ski instructors and a tour of the ski trails. As an added bonus, coffee, juice and donuts are available on the ride to Harriman, while wine and cheese are served on the return trip.


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