Jerry Sivets & Pete VonGrossmann
Thanks to Jerry Sivets for forwarding this interesting article.
Thanks, too, to Jerry and Pete for being so "entertaining!"
A couple months ago, Pete
VonGrossmann and I were interviewed about skijoring by Jim Parsons from the Metropolitan
Council. The result of his interview, included below, was forwarded to me by Deb Vosler of
Hennepin Parks. The article had me named Rich,
not Jerry, so I fixed that. Rich is, coincidentally, my brother's name. He (Rich) is not
quite so active as I am and he likes to describe his most challenging physical activity as
Jerry Sivets and his dogs had the finish line in sight and were whistling along at about 20 miles an hour when John Thompson and his two sleek Alaskans suddenly came streaking by.
Sivets' lead dog, Sampson, moved to his left to let the Alaskans pass, which is the gentlemanly thing for a well-trained skijoring dog to do. Sampson's move pulled Sivets over just enough to cause one of his skis to catch a patch of dirt on the side of the trail. Thrown off balance, Sivets, a tall, angular man of 59, began flailing away like Ichabod Crane. But his dogs, responding magnificently to the challenge of Thompson and his dogs, kept lunging forward.
Contact with a another, more significant, patch of dirt launched the unstable Sivets into one of the most scenic "face plants" in the brief annals of professional skijoring in Minnesota. One ski flew off and shot over his head while he and the rest of his equipment began plowing a head-first furrow in the icy snow.
Sivets didn't know where he was for a moment, but quickly popped up. Nothing was broken, and Sampson, Sasha and Gretchen were hell-bent on finishing. Sivets tried "surfing in" on one ski but went down again. So the dogs hauled the normally sedate engineer at Alliant Techsystems across the finish line on his derriere. There were cuts on his face and a black eye plus bruises and, later, aching muscles everywhere. But a week later, Sivets and his dogs were back at it again.
"It's like an addiction," explained Pete VonGrossmann, a friend, who also knows a thing or two about "face planting." Once, his dogs were infatuated with several deer that bounded across the trail. A brief chase through the woods ensued, ending with VonGrossmann head over tea kettle in a briar patch.
Skijoring isn't always that treacherous. Indeed, more and more Minnesotans are discovering that hitching themselves to their dogs is a fun way to get outside with their animals in the winter. "I'm one of those outdoor types who likes to look at birds' nests and the snow on the trees," said Beth Nash, "so it's purely a recreational thing for me. You need to be fairly good at cross-country skiing, but anyone can do it. I hooked my mother, who is in her mid-60s, to my dog (a 12-year-old Hungarian Vizsla named Bartok), and mom had a blast. In fact, she's better at it than I am."
Skijoring, which can be done with one, two or three dogs, has been around for awhile, but last winter its popularity shot up noticeably. "We had trouble keeping equipment in stock," said Cathy Stewart of Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis. "It has been building slowly for six or eight years, but for some reason it just took off last winter." Midwest was one of the first metro retailers to sell the necessary gear, which costs about $80. That includes a belt for the skier, harness for the dogs, tow lines and a release clip that allows skiers to quickly separate from the dogs if trouble -- such as a deer -- emerges.
Although the sport is still
a bit of an oddity, its increasing popularity has prompted several of the parks in the
metro area's Regional Parks System to let skijorers use designated trails, usually with
snowmobiles. Last winter,
"It worked well early in the season when we had plenty of snow," said Beth Nash, who handles customer service for Hennepin Parks. "Later, there wasn't enough snow to groom the trail and, unfortunately, we also had a horseback rider or two use it." A horse's hoof can bite out chunks of snow and ice, creating holes that can catch the tip of a ski or cause a dog to break its leg.
There is some irony in that. Scandinavian immigrants brought skijoring, which means "ski driving" in Norwegian, to this country about 100 years ago when horses were a principal means of locomotion, Some of the immigrants who were superb skiers and part daredevils, would hitch themselves to a horse and take off on wild excursions across the landscape. They used dogs, too, but horses made it more challenging.
Actually, it probably was
Alaskan trappers and mail carriers who first hooked themselves directly to sled dogs.
Eliminating the sled simplified things. It took a few decades, but skijoring slowly began
catching on in the lower
Given its horse-drawn ancestry, it isn't surprising that some skijorers want to race. At present, there are only a dozen or so madcap professional racers in the area including Sivets, who is from Medina, and VonGrossmann from Chanhassen. It's a bit of a stretch to even call them professionals considering the prize money they are chasing. At most, it's $125 for first place.
The skijorers don't put on their own events. They piggy back on the North Star Sled Dog Club's weekend races at various locations in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. "They have a skijoring class for us, which also includes separate races for novices," said VonGrossmann. "In my first race, I fell before we had gone eight feet. I was psyched and my dogs were psyched and somehow we got all tangled up before we could get started. It was frustrating at the time, but then you start laughing at yourself and realize how much fun you are having. And the dogs love it, which is one of the reasons it is so addicting."
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