Because what could be more exciting than being pulled by an angry stallion while on a pair of skis.
America is rich with seemingly odd snow sports that are often very isolated to different regions of the country.
Last week, we wrote about jack jumping – sliding down a slope on a seat attached to a single ski.
This week, it’s skijoring, an epic sport largely practiced in and around Leadville, Colorado. Every March, this small town is transformed into the skijoring capital of the world.
OK, so what’s the big deal about skijoring? Get this: it’s trick skiing in which a skier is towed by a galloping horse toward a ski jump in time trials!
Originating in Scandinavia, much like jack jumping, skijoring has been a huge deal in Leadville since 1949. Each team is made up of a rider and skier who must navigate jumps, slalom gates, and the spearing of rings for points.
“It is a crazy sport, but it’s a lot of fun too,” said Paul Copper, Leadville’s skijoring event organizer. “Competitors come get this in their blood. They come year after year after year, and even when they’re too old compete really, they still want to come and compete and compete and compete.”
There’s a $6,000 prize at stake in Leadville’s competition, but the popularity of the sport seems to be growing with some $20,000 available for competitors throughout the West. In all, about 50 teams competed this year in Leadville.
It also can be a tad dangerous for both the “skijorers” and onlookers. In February, three people were run over by a horse that was apparently spooked by a low-flying drone during a skijoring race in Silverton, Colorado. Riders can be thrown off of their horses on jumps, twisting and occasionally even breaking bones.
“I’d say we’re all a little crazy,” veteran skier Jason Dahl, told The Gazette of Colorado. He and his brother learned the ways of skijoring at a young age. His father continues to ride into his mid-60s despite recently breaking two ribs and puncturing a lung at a New Mexico race in which he was flung 12 feet in the air.
“It’s a little pride, I guess,” Dahl explained. “A little bit of that Wild West spirit, you know? You get bucked off, you get back on.”
In one race several years ago, veteran rider Will James, 36, got his reins wrapped in the bindings of his skier, Shawn Gerber, flinging him into the air. “I’ve got a picture of me hovering in the air with my back to the ground and my time in the background,” Gerber said. “It’s pretty sweet.”
In recent years, the sport has been expanding. There is an official organization, Skijoring America, and a growing circuit of towns in Colorado, Montana and Wyoming where the next generation of skiers are being bred. The organization, just two years old, has produced a manual and developing guidelines and rules.
But veterans want the sport to maintain its “old outlaw quality,” the Gazette reports. “We really try not to force anybody to do anything,” Matt Crossett, vice president of Skijoring America’s board. said. “We do have rules to follow, mostly a set of recommendations.”
The sport shows no sign of letting up, and millennial Westerners are already forming a very impressive next generation of riders and skiers.
“The pure adrenaline, the rush,” Gerber said, by way of an explanation for what keeps skijoring growing. “Better than any other feeling you can get.”