What do you get when an extreme skier partners up with a cowboy and his horse? It’s called skijoring. Never heard of it? Skijoring has actually been around for centuries. The Norweigan phrase translated means ski driving or driving with skis.
More than 100 years ago, the city of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, created a winter carnival to help its residents cope with cabin fever during the long winter season. That carnival is where Leadville, Colorado residents got the idea of pulling a skier behind a horse—but the sport needed to be a lot more exciting. Leadville created its own skijoring event to have faster horses and include jumps, rings, and other obstacles turning it into the sport we see today. Rocky Mountain Outfitters Owner Joe Loveridge thought it seemed only fitting to have an event like this in Utah.
Originating as a method of winter travel, skijoring today is primarily a competitive, high-adrenalin sport in which a skier is pulled by a horse and rider through a course consisting of gates, jumps, and rings. Skijoring appeared as a demonstration sport in the 1928 Winter Olympics and continues to be a popular event in neighboring states.
Rocky Mountain Outfitters coordinated the valley’s first skijoring event last winter bringing in teams from Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, and, of course, Utah.
“I had seen it before and thought it would be a good fit for Utah with all the skiers and horse people here,” said Loveridge.
When Ashley Richards heard about last year’s skijoring event at Soldier Hollow, she just thought it would be “something fun to do.” The former high school barrel racer was paired up with a couple of skiers she had never met before and as a team they competed for prize money and a buckle. “By the second day I was in it to win it,” admitted Richards.
Richards pulled Riley Tucker, a coach for Sundance’s ski racing team, who also had never attempted skijoring. “It took a few times to figure out the rope,” Tucker said. “It’s fun and very similar to ski racing with things coming at you.”
The event is a two-day competition. The inaugural race consisted of 62 teams drawing a crowd of 1,500 spectators. Teams attempt to complete the 700-foot course going through gates and over jumps while collecting rings at a very fast pace. Missing one of the obstacles results in a penalty. The fastest time with the least amount of penalties wins the race.
“There are those that do it for fun and those that are more competitive—that race to win,” explained Loveridge. The competition has both a novice and an open category allowing anyone to participate.
“It was a much better turnout than we expected,” Loveridge said but expects this winter to be even better anticipating around 100 teams to participate in the 2018 event.
Richards will be there again pulling several different skiers. “I’ve had so many people that saw me do it last year say they want to do it,” said Richards. Richards hopes to pull the skiers she pulled last year too.
“It was awesome! I can’t wait to do it again,” said Tucker. He will be racing with Richards again, but plans on doing more preseason training. He admitted the prize money is “good incentive to have fun getting dragged behind a horse” hoping to collect it this time.
“I think the horse is the athlete,” Loveridge told Park City Television. “If you don’t have a fast horse, you’re not going to win.” Horses in this event are traveling at 25-30 miles per hour.
“There’s only one thing in charge, and it goes really fast,” said Joe Feller, a professional skier and skijoring participant.
Richards said she had the fastest horse there, but her inexperience may have cost her the buckle. “In barrel racing it’s about what you and the horse can do. I learned to be watching and anticipating what the skier was going to do. We really have to work together.”
After the results of the first day of competition, a Calcutta takes places allowing spectators and participants to “buy” a team, raising money for a non-profit organization.
“Last year we gave money to the National Ability Center,” said Loveridge. “This year, we hope to keep it local, giving it to a local ski or rodeo club.”
Be sure to catch the next skijoring event scheduled for Feb. 2-3, 2018, at Soldier Hollow. Register as a team, get paired up if you’re interested in skiing or riding, or come watch the thrilling, fast-pasted race filled with unexpected excitement.