SKI TOURING WITH DOGS. WHAT CAN GO WRONG?

LESSON LEARNT

After severed tendons and a bionic replacement, here's how our mountain dog lived to ski tour another day...

It was almost exactly a year ago, on 8th December that our beautiful 2-year-old Husky/Collie cross had a catastrophic accident, colliding with a friend's ski while touring with us in Serre Chevalier.

Ullr (named after the Norse god of Snow) had to be carried down the mountain (no mean feat as he's 25 kilos), dripping blood from his hind leg where his tendons had been sliced. At the local vet, he was immediately sedated and operated on to sew his severed tendons together. There then followed six weeks of recovery while his leg was made immobile in a splint with a Robert Jones bandage. So he was off games and, having the high energy of both his parents, became a very frustrated three-legged dog hopping around our apartment.

He remained very reluctant to put his leg down and we feared it wasn't right. Our misgivings were confirmed when the vet took the bandaging off and, with a sad shake of his head, declared that the tendons had retracted rather than joining together. It was heartbreaking news, to know that our lively snow-loving dog would never ski tour again. 

But, wait, there was a faint ray of hope. There is a vet in Gap, about an hour from us, who has worked with Noel Fitzpatrick, the Supervet, and has mastered many of his techniques including creating a carbon prosthetic to bionically connect bone and tendons. It was a long shot but, following an operation with the French Supervet at the end of January, and after complete rest, ice packs, physiotherapy and gentle exercise, Ullr finally began to put weight on his back leg again. And over the past six months, Ullr has improved in leaps and bounds. Literally. 

And so, yesterday, after a decent snowfall, we headed to the Col du Lautaret for the first ski tour of the season with Ullr in the van. And I admit that I was a tad nervous about skiing with Ullr. We have ski toured with dogs for years, accompanied by our trusty Jack Russells, who very quickly learnt the crucial trick of always staying behind us, following in our ski tracks up the hill - and down - so we never had to worry about skiing into them.

Ullr, however, is a long-legged highly-energetic dog, who likes to race all over the place so you never know if he's behind or going to leap ahead and potentially lurch across your skis. Had he learnt his lesson? Had we?

As we headed up Galibier we were the first up the hill, so Gav had to manfully break trail. By always getting in line behind Gav, our Jacks (who are now 11 and 14 years old so now choose sofa-touring) not only stayed safe but also reduced their energy expenditure (which is why I'm also happy for Gav to lead the way). But not Ullr. He was running like a loon, breaking his own trail zigzagging across the mountain. 

His leg, though, was looking as good as new but after around 400m vertical, he finally started following our track, obviously tiring in the deep powder so we decided to transition. And that's when we put our plan into action.

While Gav descended for a half a dozen powder turns I held Ullr by his harness. He wailed like a banshee until I let him go and then tore like a demon through the powder downhill after Gav. And repeat for around five times as we descended.

As you can see from the GoPro video, he caught up pretty quick but kept his distance until Gav stopped. So, yes, you can teach a new dog old tricks...