Melissa Omernick loves winter sports. She’s an experienced dog musher, but in recent years her interests have turned toward a different sport, skijoring. It’s a combination of dog sledding and cross-country skiing. It’s typically done with one or two dogs connected to a bungee line and harness that goes around the skier’s waist.
When Omernick started skijoring, there was one problem. “I did not know how to ski when I started out skijoring. It’s not the best way to do a sport,” Omernick says with a laugh. “I bought some skis for my brother and he didn’t use them. I need to get my money’s worth out of these skis, so I strapped them on, and hooked up some of my sled dogs, and away I went.”
Omernick’s been skijoring for more than a dozen years now. She says it’s become her favorite sport, and her dogs agree. “On my days off, I like to go out and ski to get warmed up a little bit, and then I’ll hook up one or two dogs and we’ll go out on the trails,” Omernick says. “They know. They see my harness I’m putting on and my ski boots, and they get excited.”
Most of Omernick’s dogs are Alaskan Huskies, but they don’t have to be. “It can be a beagle, a boxer, a poodle. I happen to use Alaskan huskies,” Omernick says.
She works her way around the trails on skate skis, reaching speeds of 20-30 mph. “There’s all these fine nuances to stay in balance on skis when you’re going that fast,” Omernick says. “And you have to train yourself to balance while an animal is pulling you.”
Omernick and her dogs compete at skijoring events throughout Wisconsin, including the annual Barkie Birkie in Hayward. She says it’s a great way to glide past the winter blues.
“I do not get depressed in the wintertime. I don’t look forward to spring because I’m going out and playing with my dogs in the snow, and the time flies,” Omernick says. “Before you know it, it’s April.”