By Joseph Robertia
Being tethered to a dog may sound like an easy way to get around on skis — especially up hills — but it’s not as low-energy for the skier as it may seem.
“You actively work, too. It’s a joint effort,” said Robyn Sullens, of Soldotna, who competed in the T-200 Winter Solstice Cross Country Ski Event at Tsalteshi Trails on Saturday with her boxer, named Chivo.
The event features a five-kilometer ski race, as well as five-kilometer and 10-kilometer skijor races on the trails system behind Skyview High School, which is usually off limits to dogs during the winter.
“It’s a special day,” said Tami Murray, T-200 executive director and the organizer of the skiing and skijoring event, which raises money to be split between the T-200 and the Tsalteshi Trails Association. “Dogs normally aren’t allowed on these trails in winter, so this gives Tsalteshi members a chance to come out with their dogs. This also serves as an opportunity to introduce people to what skijoring is and how to do it.”
Unlike mushing, where dogs are attached to a gangline to pull a sled, in skijoring the dog is attached directly to a person wearing a belt with a long elastic tether running from it to the dog’s harness. Rather than the dog pulling the skier, the two work together.
Skijoring with a boxer, as Sullens did with Chivo, is not as unusual as it sounds, Murray said. Unlike mushing, where dogs need thick coats to stay out for long hours on the trail, skijoring typically involves shorter distances at faster speeds, so nearly all breeds can participate.
“Very few are sled dogs,” she said. “Last year we even had a Great Dane compete.”
While Chivo was used to working with Sullens in snowy conditions, Sullens still took extra precautions with her pet Saturday, since temperatures were frozen below zero at the start of the races. Chivo had booties on his paws and he wore a fleece coat to keep warm. Sullens said the clothing wouldn’t bother him once he started running.
“He’s like a racehorse once he gets going,” she said. “He gets totally jazzed for this.”
Huskies were few and far between at the skijor races, though Kiersten Lippmann, of Anchorage, had one named Tikko that knew what he was doing.
“He’s an Alaskan husky, but I actually got him back in New York,” Lippmann said. “He came from a musher who used him in stage and mid-distance races, so he’s pretty strong and fast.”
Lippmann competed in the skiing event and then used Tikko in both the five-kilometer skijor, in which they finished in second place, and the 10-kilometer skijor, in which they finished in third.
“The skijor race is what drew us down, but it’s a long drive from Anchorage so we wanted to do them all,” Lippmann said. “I really liked the trail. This was my first time here, but it’s a great course. There’s really nice transitions between the hills.”
Lippmann took her seasoned race dog while her friend, Andrew Lee, skijored with Lippman’s house dog. Before the race Lee said he wasn’t sure if his partner would work with him.
“She’s a German shepherd who doesn’t pull, but Kiersten is going out first, so the plan is maybe she’ll chase her,” he said.
After a brief hesitation, the dog took to the trail just as they had hoped.
Mike Malvick also made the trip down from Anchorage, but he was no first-timer to Tsaltheshi Trails.
“I came last year and it was a treat to ski with my dogs on really high-quality Nordic trails that are always groomed to perfection,” he said.
Malvick competed in all three events, and used different dogs for each skijor race. Then he took out three other dogs that were waiting in the car.
Trail grooming was done by Bill Holt and Pat King. They worked during the night to ensure the Wolf, Coyote and Beaver loops were in great shape for the event.
“It’s real fast and firm, but skiers can get a good bite,” Holt said.
Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche said the efforts of people like Holt and the other organizers are a boon for peninsula residents during the winter months.
“It’s part of what makes this community great,” he said. “These folks work hard to get people out of the house and onto the trails. Sometimes you can come and ski on trails that are groomed before your driveway is even plowed.”
As good as the trails were, Patti Berkhahn, of Soldotna, is used to them as a regular skier at Tsalteshi Trails. But she said the opportunity to come with her dog is what drew her out Saturday.
“I was sitting at home this morning thinking about all the Christmas stuff I still have to do,” she said. “But this is the only day to come with my dog, so I wasn’t going to miss it.”
Tustumena 200 Winter Solstice Cross Country Ski Event
5-kilometer ski: 19-44 men — Tommy Honer, 14:13; Andrew Lee, 14:16; Mike Salzetti, 35:46; Daryl Palmer, 41:49. 19-44 women — Kiersten Lippmann, 14:25; Larissa Phillips, 33:32. 45-and-over men — Tom Pillifant, 16:36; Michael Malvick, 18:32; Bill Tracy, 35:50. 45-and-over women — Laura Pillifant, 21:53. 10-13 boys — Addison Downing, 26:06. 10-13 girls — Sadie Fox, 21:52; Mikaela Salzetti, 35:43.
5-K Skijor: Rebecca Knight, 12:22; Kiersten Lippmann, 12:35; Michael Malvick, 13:23; Tom Seggerman, 13:35; Cory Route, 15:08; Patti Berkhahn, 15:17; Andrew Lee, 16:09; Joe Mooney, 16:17; Addison Downing, 17:54; Gary Galbraith, 18:16; Scott Downing, 22:59; Robyn Sullens, 27:58.
10-K Skijor: Rebecca Knight, 23:10; Michael Malvick, 25:35; Kiersten Lippmann, 26:19.