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How to prepare for ski touring with your dog

Our advice on how to best prepare for a ski tour with your dog: routes, equipment and other tips!

#1: Know your tour itinerary

The first thing to do before you leave is to choose and research your itinerary - even if you are going without a dog.

  • What is the snow condition?

  • Is the route in a marked area or off-piste?

  • What are the weather and terrain conditions (steep, rocky, in the forest, on the edge of the slopes...)

Snow conditions

It is always good to know the snow situation on your itinerary. On the one hand, a trail in full sun in April can be impassable and can damage your equipment, and on the other hand, a frozen trail can be a real pain. Your dogs will also appreciate better conditions.

Marked or unmarked area

Setting off without information in the mountains can quickly become very dangerous. No matter what itinerary you choose, make sure you know if the path is off the marked trails and supervised by the ski stations. As a general rule, for any off-piste itinerary that we do, we get information:

  1. On the daily avalanche risk level

  2. From experts or if necessary from mountain guides

  3. On the rules of the high mountains

And of course, we never leave without all our safety equipment: harva, probe and shovel.

For all our high mountain tours, we do not usually take our dogs with us as they are not trained to follow the high mountain rules, and they can also cause accidents due to their young age.

Weather and terrain conditions

We will rely on your common sense to avoid snow storms, but it is not uncommon to be surprised in the mountains by a sudden change in weather and temperature. There are several websites where you can get information about snow and weather forecasts.

In addition to the weather, it is important to know the terrain you will encounter on your tour. When we go ski touring with our dogs, we choose trails that avoid the slopes (for the obvious reason of avoiding skiers) as well as trails in the forest because it can be very cold for the dogs (see 10 tips and tricks to protect your dog from the cold)

#2: Equip yourself and your dog!

When I first went on a ski touring tour, I always ended up with a bag that was bigger than I was, carrying too much or systematically removing layers of clothing. Today, I have three outfits depending on the weather conditions: 1# warm, 2# cool, and 3# very cold. You can find my ski touring gear here.

For our dogs, we equip them with their sport harnesses, and we always carry with us:

  • Water

  • One lanyard per dog of +10 meters

  • Treats in a handy pouch

  • Warmers

  • Rio's (Jack Russell) coat, which she puts on during the climb

  • Our Krugo rucksack which carries Rio on the ski descent

  • An empty hot water bottle that we fill with our leftover hot tea on the way down to keep Rio warm from the bag

  • A blanket to keep Rio warm in the rucksack.

  • Vaseline to protect the paws

In practice, we attach our dogs with lanyards on the way up. As we know the routes, we know when to call them back. They are unleashed most of the way up but the lanyard allows us to manage them if there are skiers coming down or the itinerary is crowded. When we get to the top, we put Rio in our special dog backpack, and Saki runs alongside us. We do try to get down using the gondolas from time to time with Saki as the descent is bad for her hips.

#3: Make sure your dog is fit and trained for the distance you want to do

Even if you are fit and can ski tour all day, your dog may not be able to. It is important to be able to judge your dog's ability to keep up with you without it leading to exhaustion.

Yes, our dogs love us more than anything and some will follow us to their death.

With Saki and Rio, we pay attention to the number of hours we spend outdoors, the miles we walk, the hills we climb and the ground conditions. At the moment, our dogs are following us on 10km-15km routes that have about 1000 metres of climbing on fairly hard, gentle ground, and marked paths. If we were to do longer trails, we would plan a big break in the middle of the itinerary, or consider not taking them with us.

#4: Keep your dog warm

Protecting your dog in winter is essential for your dog's good health. Not all dogs are equal when it comes to the cold, so the following tips should be adapted to your breed. Our little Jack Russell is a great chiller, so we have a stuffed winter coat that we put on for her every time we go out.

The most important thing is that the dogs do not stand still wet in the cold. As we put Rio in her bag on the way down, we take special care to keep her dry and snug in her blanket. A tip to keep her warm in the bag is to take an empty hot water bottle with us, which we fill with water/tea from our thermos if necessary, or shake heaters which we put at the bottom of the bag.

#5: Plan breaks during your hike

We all know the "+5 minutes per month" rule for walks when dogs are puppies, but what about when they are adults? We asked this question to our dog trainer who is also a professional dog rescuer on the lakes of Switzerland. The answer is that you need to plan rest breaks (and not just for eating and drinking) every hour: after 1 hour = 10 minutes rest, after 2 hours = 20 minutes rest, after 3 hours = 30 minutes rest, etc...

6#: Listen to your dog

Finally, for us, the most important thing is to listen to Saki and Rio to know if they are thirsty, hungry or if they are too tired to continue. Several times we have come back in the middle of a run because we could see that Rio could not keep up.


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