SILVERTON – A cacophony of yips and yowls filled the bitter winter air Saturday, as racers and their dogs took their places at the starting line again and again during the Silverton Flying Sled Dog Races.
The races hosted by Rocky Mountain Sled Dog Club drew about 25 amateur teams from across the region for dog sled, skijor and bikejor events. In the skijor and bikejor events, dogs pulled their racers, just as horses pull their skiers during the annual Silverton skijoring races.
Organizer Lynn Whipple said the club was pleased with the turnout and hoped to encourage more people to take up a dog sport by holding a skijoring clinic after the races.
“This is a positive exercise and activity for your dog, and for the human also to bond. ... They do the work, we get the exercise.”
Racer Michael Wason of Redstone found skijoring helped him overcome his depression after 20 years in the U.S. Army working in intelligence. He said the sport has kept him from falling back into it.
He took up skijoring after adopting a German shorthair pointer in 2006 that would not stop pulling on the leash. To harness the dog’s energy, Wason started taking it out on a skateboard and then on skis.
“He pulled me off the couch,” Wason said.
Wason competed Saturday with a team of three dogs including a Shar Pei-heeler mix, which was among some of the nontraditional breeds racing. A collie also took to the course on a skijor team.
Skijoring is appealing and growing in popularity because it doesn’t require as much gear or as many dogs to participate as dog sledding, Wason said.
“I think that it is the future of dog sports,” he said.
Musher Dave Eckert traveled from Flagstaff, Arizona, to race his four dogs, a hobby he took up while living in Alaska and watching the iconic Iditarod races. The middle school teacher said he finds practicing with his dogs and listening to the pat-pat of their feet to be a magical experience.
“I love working with the dogs and giving them the opportunity to do what they love to do,” he said.
Among the committed members of the small crowd were Winter and Decker Weston of Norwood, who came to learn more about skijoring, a sport they are taking up with their Aussiedoodles, Bootylicious and Mr. Boner Man.
Winter Weston is hoping with help from her dogs, she can spend a bit more time outside with her disability.