Elisa Deutschmann and her husky Finn love to hit the mountains together. Throughout the past six years, they have done ski mountaineering in several countries, under all kinds of conditions.
- We share our adventures on Instagram, and I get a lot of questions about how to do ski mountaineering with dogs, Elisa says.
She is sharing her best tips in the podcast «Unleashed.»
1. Get the right gear for your dog
Elisa is usually attached to her dog when going up the mountains. She is using the fully elastic Bungee Leash. Since she is skiing, she chooses the 2,8-meter long version to make sure there is a safe distance between the dog and the skis.
Another option is the Touring Bungee, which is available in more lengths and widths. This leash is partly elastic and gives you more control of the dog.
Finn is a strong husky that likes to pull. Therefore Elisa chose the Combined Harness and Freemotion harness 5.0 for him. With these harnesses, his movement is not restricted. Both are adjustable, and Freemotion Harness is available in many sizes. If your dog is not pulling, the Line Harness 5.0 can also be used.
If your dog tends to get snow or ice in between the toes, you should use booties. They will also help protect the paws if conditions are rough, and you should always carry some spare socks in case of an accident.
While moving, most dogs will stay warm. A jacket is usually not necessary unless it is very cold. If your dog is freezing, you should get a coat that does not restrict movement or cause chafing. Blest Jacket is a lightweight dog jacket developed for mushing. Due to the hook and loop fasteners, it can easily be taken on or off. This jacket should be worn on top of the harness to preserve the natural insulation abilities of your dog's fur. When not in use, the jacket can easily fit into your belt, pocket, or backpack.
If your dog has longer fur and struggles with lumps of snow or ice during wintertime, using a suit that covers the body can be a good idea. A full suit can also benefit dogs with less fur, that needs protection against wind or snow. Protector Snow is a comfortable, elastic suit that sits tight on the body without restricting movement, and a harness (or a jacket) can be worn over it.
If you are active outside for many hours, you are advised to bring a snack for extra energy and reward.
2. Get the right gear for yourself
You will need a lot of gear when ski mountaineering, of course. Here we only focus on what extras are required when bringing a dog.
Finn's line is usually attached to Elisa's backpack, but you can also use a belt if the dog is a strong puller. A belt will give you the possibility to move without holding the dog's line in your hands and minimize strain on your lower back. There are several models available to suit your preferences, for example, the Ferd Belt.
When ski mountaineering with a dog, it is important to be careful. Skis with steel edges can cause bad injuries.
- You can get skis without steel edges. I do not use these myself, but it requires that you pay attention to the dog at all times and teach it to stay away from your skis.
3. Learn about avalanche risks
Elisa loves to share her experiences with Finn. He is her partner in crime. Therefore she needs to make sure he is safe at all times.
- Finn does not understand where it is safe to go. He is just having the time of his life, not worrying about that. It is my responsibility to keep him safe. I have spent much time in the mountains and learned a lot about avalanches throughout the years. You need to know the basics of avalanche risks and snow conditions before you go ski mountaineering.
4. Teach your dog some basic rules
Some basic skills are essential for safety reasons. Your dog should learn the necessary commands in advance to avoid spending unnecessary time on this in the mountains. When going up, your dog should keep a steady pace to save energy for the descent. If he tends to push himself too hard, Elisa advises you to train this.
As you get closer to the top, where it is really steep, you might have to do «hairpin turns». At this point, it is crucial that your dog does not cause you to lose balance.
- We trained «stop» command on flat ground before I brought him with me to the mountains. Train your dog; otherwise you can get in trouble in the mountains.
When skiing down, Finn is running free behind Elisa.
- He needs to stay at least five meters from me at all times. I spent time teaching him this in the beginning, so now he knows it very well.
Elisa trained this by using her ski pole as an extension of her arm. With the poles, she guides Finn to stay behind her and keep a distance.
I do not touch him with the poles, but use them to help him understand where to go. I added a «go behind» command to this behavior. He knows exactly what it means.
5. Wait for your dog
It might be tempting to ski all the way down, but when bringing your dog it is important to have breaks. You don't want him to chase you and push himself too hard. Running in snow can be hard work, even if it is downhill!
- I stop every 200 meters to let Finn catch his breath. It is important to know your dog and it's limits. All dogs can climb mountains, but it is your responsibility to make the necessary adjustments to make it an enjoyable experience for him.
6. Enjoy the moment
Elisa sees more and more people bringing their dogs to the mountains to enjoy breathtaking views and have fun.
- Enjoy the moments together! I am so happy to see that many want to share this experience with their dogs.
If you want to follow Elisa and Finn's adventures, follow @artivicial on Instagram!