February 26, 2020

Cross-country canines take to the trails

OXFORD — Cross-country ski center operators who once eschewed canine companions are pursuing customers who take their four-legged friends along on romps in the woods.

The result is more and more groomed trails dedicated to dog owners. They’re known in the business as “loop de poop” trails.

The owner of the Carter’s Cross Country Ski Centers allows dogs on all of his trails with one caveat: owners pay full price for a daily doggie pass that will be confiscated for misbehavior.

“We’ve never had a problem,” said David Carter, who lets dogs romp alongside their owners on 22 miles of trails in Oxford.

It’s a growing trend at cross-country ski centers.

Dogs were allowed at only a handful of trails a decade ago; now they’re allowed at 53 of 212 areas that belong to the Cross Country Ski Areas Association, according to Chris Frado, president and executive director of the Winchester, N.H.-based organization.

The reason is simple.

For sheer exuberance, it’s hard to beat the reaction of a dog traipsing around in fresh, fluffy snow. So it’s only natural that skiers want to let their dogs tag along.

Michael Bourque of Portland said his dog Susi, a Labrador retriever, is 9 years old and gray around the muzzle. “But when she’s in the snow, she runs like a puppy. It’s exhilarating,” he said.

Wende Gray of the Maine Nordic Ski Council said the organization gets lots of calls from dog owners, many of them European transplants who are used to having their dogs accompany them everywhere.

“We recognize that there are thousands of people who don’t go to the ski areas because they can’t bring fido with them,” Frado said. “Instead of saying no to a group of users, we’re learning to say yes.”

The most common method is for ski areas to set aside a portion of their trail system, or a single trail loop, for dog owners.

Even ski area operators who allow dogs recognize that the dogs can punch holes in the snow with their paws, wrecking the tracks in which skiers glide or the groomed surface on which they skate.

Also, there is the obvious problem of waste on the trail, thus the tongue-in-cheek names, such as “poop loop” and “loop de poop.”

The ski centers that allow dogs have come up with solutions such as providing plastic bags or pooper scoopers to owners. Many of them bar dogs on days when weather conditions make the snow particularly susceptible to damage from romping dogs.

In Oxford, Carter restricts canines to certain areas if there is a race, and he bars them altogether sometimes.

But dogs are welcome on most days as long as their owners are willing to pay $10 for the privilege.

Carter decided to allow dogs at his ski center in Oxford and at another ski center with 35 miles of trails in Bethel after being asked by many of his customers. He estimates his decision three years ago has boosted his business by 5 to 10 percent.

The program has worked well, and he has never had to confiscate a doggie pass, he said.

Many Mainers point to Gene Dayton as a pioneer. His dog trail called the “Loop de Poop” opened 10 years ago in Frisco, Colo. It’s a modest 1.5 miles, but the idea and the name caught on.

One of the most extensive doggie ski programs is at North Valley Trails in Sun Valley, Idaho, where half of the 95 miles of trails are open to canines, said Mary Austin Crofts, executive director of the Blaine County Recreation District.

This year, North Valley Trails sold nearly 1,000 season tickets for dogs and 3,500 season tickets for people, she said.

“It makes a lot of sense to do what customers want you to do,” said Crofts. “That’s the American way.”

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