Before the dog lived with us, she did not know what skiing was. She didn’t know much actually, other than how to get over shockingly tall fences and how to annoy the people she lived with. Now she knows a little more, and the promise of maybe getting to go skiing keeps her from trying to scale the backyard fence. She knows we’re going skiing as soon as I start to undress. Anytime I take off my pants in the middle of the day she gets excited, because she knows that probably means I’m swapping work clothes for ski clothes, and ski clothes mean she might get to come along
She yanks her leash down from the hook where it lives as I gather my ski gear. She knows her responsibility, knows she’s not invited without her leash. Sometimes this is a frustrating habit, when I get a SAR callout and am frantically gathering boots and skins to head out the door and help someone she likes to add to the chaos by running around the house with her leash in her mouth snagging on furniture and generally making an already tense situation worse.
But today we’re just going skiing. So I don’t mind when she sits whining by the door, waiting for me to put her coat on. She’s learned a lot about skiing, but she hasn’t learned that when we get out the skis with the big clunky bindings, she’s not invited. Luckily today though, we’re on the skis with the dainty pins, and it’s not early morning, so there’s a good chance she’s coming.
She has a myriad of ways to predict if we might take her skiing. After all, much of her life revolves around its promise. Changing into base layers, getting out boots, putting on skins in the living room, these are all easy tells. But she tries to read the trickier ones too. If Dan walks in the door, she’ll panic and finish her kibble as fast as possible, because she knows if Dan’s around there’s a good chance we’re going skiing. Similarly, if we pull out of the driveway and turn north instead of south, she knows that we might be going to pick up some of her friends, and the excitement mounts.
The dog is not aware of avalanches. She doesn’t read the report or carry rescue gear. She’s confident in us to read the slope, and she’ll do what she always does, regardless. Sometimes I’m jealous of her oblivion to danger. Other times I hate it and curse at her as she dives off the skin track into some deep tree well, almost drowning before I can yank her back out by the nape of her neck. She’s a little short on survival instincts, like a new backcountry skier dead set on laying down that slash on a convex slope.
Generally though, she knows the skintrack routine: If it’s firm go ahead and wait at the steepest switchbacks to make sure the humans make it up. If it’s soft, she alternates between trying to break trail, and trying to hitch a ride on my tails. Both are equally annoying. But she looks so cute wallowing in deep snow that it’s hard to stay mad for long.
She hates slow skinners. Her herding drive kicks in and she’ll bark and nip, trying to get you to pick up the pace. It’s embarrassing when she does it to slower friends, but no matter how many times she gets hit by the shock collar we can’t break her of it. She does the same thing at transitions. If you don’t rip your skins with your skis on, she’s unimpressed. Her feet are cold and she wants to ski. The dog is not a patient partner.
And she’s not discerning either. She doesn’t care how much it snowed last night. In fact, the worse the conditions, the happier she is. She doesn’t really care for turns, instead she immediately commits to whatever fall line we’re above, confident that she’ll meet back up with us at the bottom. She’s not sendy or flashy. Some dogs bound down the hill, eager to stretch their legs. She mostly trundles, small steps, straight down the fall line, breaking a trail that’s often deeper than her shoulders.
Luckily, even though she’s a cow dog, she doesn’t try to herd skiers. Instead she waits for them to pass and goes back to trundeling down. The dog doesn’t know it, but we carry more medical gear for her than for ourselves, scared by past, more easily ski cut dogs.
I don’t think the dog actually likes snow. Her feet get cold easily, and she whines a lot. Sure, she likes to roll in it, but she likes to roll in dust too. She won’t even leave the porch to pee when it’s snowing. But, if there are skis involved, she’s in, nipping and barking to get out the door faster.
Sometimes I wish I viewed skiing more like my dog does. She’s always stoked to get out, no matter the conditions or weather. She’s never too tired or too scared or too busy or too over it. She’s always ready to drop everything to go skiing. Sure, it has its downsides, sometimes she’s stuck wallowing through bushes or pawing at an inescapable tree well. But that’s skiing too, and she loves it all.
The snow is crappy. My boots stink. But I was cleaning up the gear room and the dog thought I was getting out my skis, and went to get her leash, so maybe we’ll take a lap this afternoon after all.