MARQUETTE -When he first saw a sled dog team up close while on the trail of the U.P. 200 a few years ago, Nate Demers thought it would be neat to one day own his own racing dogs.
Just a few years later, Demers has his dogs, though he still doesn't own a sled.
For the last year, he and his wife, Lindsay, have learned the ins and outs of skijoring, in which a skier is pulled along a trail by a small group of harnessed dogs. They now own eight racing dogs.
Lindsay Demers enjoys a skijor training run with her dogs Wednesday. Demers, who has been skijoring for only a year, will be competing in the Animoosh Noque Skijor Race, a component of this weekend’s 14th annual Noquemanon Ski Marathon. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
In just the last year, Lindsay topped the Indian River Sled Dog Race's skijor division and the pair competed in the Tahquemanon Country Sled Dog Race. They also competed in the Barkie Birkie in Hayward, Wis., which is the pet-friendly offshoot of the American Birkbeiner, the largest cross-country ski marathon on the continent.
The transition into the sport was fairly simple for the pair, who were already avid skiers. They use skate skis and actively ski as one, two or three dogs run in front of them, attached to the skier by elastic cords.
Skijorers often exist in a gray area between skiing and sled dog racing, according to Nate Demers, who refers to himself as a musher who uses skis instead of a sled.
"Some people jockey and let the dogs pull, but being skiers, we like to ski with them," he said. "Some skiers think it's cheating because we're using dogs, but some dog-sledders think we're cheating because we should let the dogs do all the pulling."
Though she has only been involved with skijoring for slightly more than a year, Lindsay Demers has seen a change in the sport's popularity. Last year, she said, they saw very few skijorers in the area.
"When we're out here now, a lot of people ask us what we're doing and want to interact with the dogs," she said.
This increased popularity can be seen in the growing acceptance of skijoring. Nate Demers volunteers with the Noquemanon Trail Network, plowing and grooming trails. The NTN now allows limited skijoring; select trails - roughly 15 miles worth - are dog-friendly.
"There aren't too many ski areas that allow (dogs)," he said. "We try to do whatever we can do. By being a volunteer, you help further the sport."
Smaller skiing and sled dog events around the country are beginning to open their doors to skijorers, according to Nate Demers. A long-term goal, he said, is to see some larger sled dog races begin to accept skijorers.
In fact, for the first time in 14 years, this weekend's Noquemanon Ski Marathon will include a skijor division, the Animoosh Noque Skijor Race. Lindsay Demers will be competing.
Nate Demers, who is also the skijor race director, hopes such exposure gets even more people interested in the activity.
"If you want to come out with a little dog and ski with it and it's hooked to you, that's just as fun," he said. "Going for a ski with your dog is kind of the point."
To that end, the couple is also spearheading a Noquemanon Skijor Club. Meetings of the club, which typically meets every other Wednesday, are free to attend.
"You have a lot of various interest levels within that group," Lindsay Demers said. "Some people want to race and some people just want to get out and get exercise with their dogs."
More information on the club can be found on their Facebook page, Noquemanon Skijor Club, or by calling the Noquemanon Trail Network at 906-235-6861.
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.