Canada’s champion skijors to Germany
|By Sue Tiffin - Staff Writer | March 20, 2014
Ten years ago, Karen Koehler thought she had invented her own sport when she was cross-country skiing while her dogs pulled her. Then she realized the sport had a name – skijoring – and that amateur skijoers could participate in the Haliburton Sled Dog Derby.
She tried it, and was hooked.
Now, the 40-year-old ASES teacher is a professional skijoer with two experiences at the world championships, and one that she is planning for next year. Koehler won all 12 of the classes she participated in this season, and is the leading female competitor in Canada this year. She also celebrated her first home win in Haliburton.
“It’s very different racing at home,” said Koehler, who annually competes in a circuit that takes her across Ontario and to Quebec. “You feel really special, and you’re so supported.”
Koehler said that her friends and family showed up at this year’s Haliburton derby to cheer her on and to help with the dogs. Koehler’s dogs, Oodle and Bundle, are German short-haired pointers that come from Norway, where some think the sport of skijoring, or “ski driving”, originates. She picked them up after seeing the competition use the breed at her first world’s there in 2011. They love to run, but also love the comfort of home, where they live with Koehler and her husband. When not relaxing or training at home, they’re on the road.
“Once you start travelling with two dogs it can get expensive, and everything adds up,” said Koehler.
To help reduce the cost of travelling the Ontario-Quebec skijoring circuit, Koehler says she brings a cooler for food to avoid buying dinner while on the road, and winter camps with the dogs rather than splurging on hotels. She also has support from Chocpaw, Chew That, and Sharpley’s Source for Sports in Haliburton, and is beginning to look for sponsors to help her get to Germany for the world’s championship in 2015.
Koehler said travelling to different races has helped her learn as she goes. Watching other participants and talking with her competitors motivates her to keep travelling the circuit despite the costs.
“Every day, I’d learn something earth-shattering that would help me win my race,” she said of her visit to Alaska.
She learned that snow conditions can be different depending on geography, and that she was using the wrong wax on her skis. Her dogs have become loose and she started her first mass race by falling, landing on the ground, and having her dog continue to run. She also learned that following a strict regime of exercise and diet helped her results.
“If you have the whole package, that’s best for peak performance,” she said.
On March Break, Koehler took a break from racing. She was headed to the park to do some sledding in which she can sit back and not have to ski for once. And she was indulging in some of the treats that aren’t included in her diet during race season.
“I’m having some chocolate,” she said. “It’s okay to have a couple of weeks of normal life.”
Koehler is an advocate of rookies of any age getting involved in skijoring, and said that anyone can do it. Any dog can do it as well, with permission from a vet. She is a big fan of the Twin Lakes trail, where dogs are allowed and where she sometimes skis twice a day on her way to and from work. She said the dogs do not wreck the trails for other skiers, and that owners are expected to pick up after them.
“It’s good to get them off the couch, and you off the couch, too.”
SUE TIFFIN is a reporter for The Highlander and holds the honour of being the only married reporter with a baby in the county. She returned to Minden after 16 years of Toronto and Seoul life, and is trying to relearn Canadian culture. Her dog, Jjigae, is a rare breed in Canada and tends to take up more space in the bed than is physically possible. Sue is fascinated by science and nutrition,and sometimes forgets that it’s not always a good idea to be honest.