The Winter Olympics is no stranger to wacky sporting events. In its modern history, the Winter Games have hosted weird spectacles like the winter biathlon (a sport that pairs two pastimes that don’t at all go together—cross-country skiing and precision rifle shooting), luge (an event in which athletes lie on their backs atop a tiny sled and hurl themselves down an icy track at speeds up to 90 mph), and curling (in which two teams take turns sliding large, polished stones over a rectangular sheet of ice toward a bull’s-eye target, while two teammates frantically sweep the ice with brooms to help direct the stones).
But if those sports, all featured at the Sochi games, aren’t quite bizarre enough for your taste, consider the onetime—and possibly future—Olympic sport of skijoring.
Pronounced skee-JORE-ing, the sport has been described by some as being somewhat akin to water skiing, except on snow. While wearing snow skis instead of water skis. And while being pulled by a dog.
In reality, the sport is closer to being a cross between cross-country skiing and dog sledding. Skijoring (Norwegian for “ski driving”) is a competitive sport in which a dog is outfitted with a sledding harness that’s attached by a towline to a belt worn by a skier. Skijoring races—usually anywhere from four to 12 miles in length—are a study in human-canine teamwork; a blur of fur, ski blades, and snow (sometimes yellow snow). Athletes wear ultra-light skate skis and power themselves by striding with poles while simultaneously being pulled along by a dog (or small team of dogs) that run 6-to-10 feet a head of the skier. Dog-powered skijorers can reach speeds of up to 25 mph.
Skijoring was a demonstration event at the 1928 Winter Olympics, held in St. Moritz, Switzerland; skiers were towed, somewhat implausibly, by horses rather than dogs. After that, it disappeared from competition.