About a year ago, Ed and I took up cross country skiing. We are still very new at it, having gone less than five times. Last winter, we didn't even dream of bringing Niko with us. We wouldn't have available hands to hold his leash and he was a flight risk. However, over the summer, Niko gained our trust and proved to be alright off leash in remote areas. Sure, he isn't great at name recall, but he always comes back....eventually.
A coworker recommended a national forest nearby that has great trails for cross country skiing. We were impressed by the scenery and there were many trails to choose from. Another plus was there was no charge to use the trails and dogs were allowed. We swooshed around in our skiis a bit and Niko was indifferent to the extra baggage attached to our feet. He was more interested in the snow apparently. We held on to his leash until we got into the trail a little bit, away from the parking lot and road. We let go of his leash but decided to keep it attached to Niko's harness. We were testing new waters here and wanted an easy way to get a hold of him easily.
The experience turned out better than I expected. Niko stayed close and if he went exploring, he came back very quickly. The best feeling was when I lagged behind, he would run to the back of the "pack" to check on me. Once he saw I was moving along, he'd run back to the front to Ed. I may be looking into it more than I should, but I think he has an inner instinct to protect and guard us. He does this on hikes with bigger groups of people as well; running back and forth and accounting for everyone.
We came across a pair of nice elderly ladies who were also skiing. They were delighted to see Niko. Niko was friendly to them, but barked at a solo skier who went on by. It was a fun time for all of us, but for Niko especially. He hopped in and out of the deep snow; buried his head in it; and covered 3 times the distance we humans did from all the running. When it was time to leave, we were able to corral him by way of a tennis ball. Niko was pooped out on the car ride home: