Writer and Photographer: TAMRA BOLTON / Jan.-Feb. 2017
Some say that the skijoring movement in North America began when cowboys bragging in a bar that each had the fastest horse and was the best skier decided to settle bets.
Others say that bored ranch hands strapped on skis and held on to the reins of their running horses just to see just how fast they could go before they no longer could hang on.
Skijoring, or ski driving, has been a part of Scandinavian life for centuries. It is believed to have originated in the Altai Mountains where dogs pulled people on wooden boards across the snow. Horses, dogs and even reindeer have been used to pull people through an otherwise impassable winter landscape.
In 1928, skijoring was an exhibition sport at the Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz. According to historian Loren Zhimanskova, skijoring began to take off in the United States after World War II, when a unit known as Soldiers on Skis returned home from serving in Europe.
Now, decades later, skijoring is becoming a more popular extreme winter sport.
In 2015, I attended the World Championship of Skijoring held in Whitefish, Montana, a ski town adjacent to Glacier National Park.
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Slipping and sliding on the icy spectator area, I made my way to a netted barricade to get a closer look and take photos. When the first racing team came by, the horses kicking up snow with thundering hooves, I was hooked.
The Open Class featured the most skilled competitors with the fastest horses or mules. I saw Joe Scanlon and his horse Mud D Duck, who ended up winning the championship. Another skijoring powerhouse, Tim McCarthy and his beautiful grey horse, Twister, also competed.
It is a dangerous sport, but so far, injuries in competition have been few. Competitors must be at least 18 years old and wear safety gear.
In spite of the extreme cold, it was a festive atmosphere. I enjoyed watching not only the races but the crowd gathered to watch. Families with babies bundled in carriers, older folks with thermoses of hot coffee and kids in brightly colored coats with their dogs all seemed to be having a wonderful time.
For those who are interested in giving skijoring a try, Creek Ranch in Darby, Montana, offers recreational skijoring as an activity for guests.
SEE IT FOR YOURSELF: Skijoring Competitions in 2017
- Jan. 7, 8 – Ridgway, Colorado
- Jan. 14, 15 – Red River, New Mexico
- Jan. 14, 15 – Bozeman, Montana
- Jan. 28, 29 – Kremmling, Colorado
- Jan. 28, 29 – Whitefish, Montana
- Feb. 4, 5 – Big Sky, Montana
- Feb. 11, 12 – Jackson Hole, Wyoming
- Feb. 11, 12 – Steamboat Springs, Colorado
- Feb. 18, 19 – Sundance, Wyoming
- Feb. 18, 19 – Silverton, Colorado
- Feb. 18, 19 – Pinedale, Wyoming
- March 4, 5 – Leadville, Colorado