Colorado loves its extreme winter sports, we huck ourselves off rocks and cliffs into the snow at high rates of speed, we paddle down Class IV rivers in tiny plastic boats and we hike up huge 14er’s winter and summer. So it should come as no surprise that we should embrace the crazy sport of Skijoring, which is part rodeo, part ski race and part NASCAR.
Skijoring is an action-packed winter sport where you race down an 835-foot course while skiing behind a running horse, holding onto a 36-foot rope while going over jumps and capturing hanging rings with a baton. It’s nuts! AND it is thrilling to watch or be a part of (whether skier, rider or horse)
Here in Vail, CO, we are lucky to be just a short drive away from Leadville, CO because Leadville skijoring dwarfs all other events for its location and the premium nature of its course. Leadville has been perfecting equestrian skijoring for more than 100 years! It has been going strong since it’s inaugural run in 1949, and is one of the premier events of its kind in the country.
Equine skijoring is a very specialized, competitive sport, where horses can accelerate to over 40 mph. So, in just three strides, most horses can cover a straight track roughly 900′ in length. Skiers must navigate over a series of jumps while spearing rings at speeds up to 60 mph as they accelerate through turns. Jumps can be 7 feet in height, but are usually lower or roller style. Curved tracks can be used, but most tracks in Colorado are straight. A straight course allows the horse to run at top speed down the course with less chance of injury.
There are lots of ways to enjoy this unique event in Leadville. You can ride your own horse, try to ski behind one, bid on a team at the morning Calcutta auction, or line up on Harrison Avenue to watch all the excitement from the sidelines! Kids can also get in on the fun by trying their hand at skijoring behind a snowmobile.
Check out this awesome video of the Leadville Skijoring event
Skijoring in Leadville CO
Trucks begins days ahead of the event, hauling in load after load of snow to dump onto the main drag of Harrison Avenue. The street is closed to traffic and the snow is carefully shaped into a course with a long, flat lane down the middle, with ramps of different sizes on either side. The grandstand is erected, and banners are raised. Finally cowboys and their horses will arrive from all over the states well as South Dakota, Montana, New Mexico and beyond to compete in this extreme winter sport.
Each morning of the event starts with the Calcutta, this is where teams are created by a random draw before the start of the race and other people can “buy” these teams for a chance to win big money if their team wins. From the grandstand, an auctioneer will sell wagers to the highest bidder for ski/horse teams. By betting on teams, even if you are only a spectator and not directly participating in the race as rider or skier, it could be a winning weekend for you. Keep in mind the Calcutta can hit big numbers with some of the favorite teams going for over $1,000.
Biding usually finishes around 11:45. If you are not interested in participating in the Calcutta, arrive to the event closer to noon so you don’t have to wait long for the “real” fun.
At high noon, the action starts when the first horse hits Harrison Avenue, competitors race for cash prizes, and bragging rights so the competition can be fierce.
It is surreal to watch a horse galloping down a modern main street covered in snow and pulling a skier, and at the Leadville skijoring event there are different divisions of these horse and skier teams; professionals, amateurs and beginners. All offer excitement, the thrill of the race and, of course, CRASHES. Skier wipeouts are unbelievably entertaining and (more rarely) horse wipeouts are very scary. This wild, winter event is thrilling from beginning to end
Understanding the rules and penalties will make watching this event more fun and entertaining, here is a sample of what you need to know.
Ski skijoring is a competition where a horse and rider pull a skier at a fast pace through a course that has gates, jumps and rings. The skier is timed through the course, and penalties are assessed by missing gates or jumps, and by missing or dropping the baton or any of the rings.
- Horses are limited to (2) two runs maximum per day.
- Skier must use a baton to pick up rings.
- Skier must have hold of tow-rope across finish.
- Skier must be in control, and in an upright position, and on at least one ski when crossing finish line.
- Rider must be on horse when skier crosses finish line.
- Both ski tips and boots must go through gate or jump markers, including finish and start gate.
- A Skier who “jumps” the start gate, and does not start the clock will not be allowed a re-run or re-start.
- A skier will be granted one re-start if he lets go of the tow-rope before tripping the start gate.
Penalties will be added on to running times as follows:
- Missed Jump (4 Seconds)
- Missed Gate (4 Seconds)
- Missed (or dropped) ring – 2 Seconds per ring
- Dropped baton before finish – 2 Seconds
- Rings knocked off by rider – 2 Seconds per ring
- Horse and rider have a maximum of (4) four minutes from the time the ‘Course Clear’ signal is given from starter to cross the starting line with skier
What To Watch Out For
The sport of Skijoring with its gates, big jumps, hanging rings, and a 1,200-pound animal blasting through snow at high speeds, is fun and exciting, but, sometimes, sadly, this event can end with tragedy. I have been to 4 skijoring events over the years and have never seen any problem or real injuries to horses or skiers. However, in 2016, Leadville had an event where one of the horses needed to be put down after the horse fell and broke its leg. Just keep in mind that although this event is fun and thrilling there can be accidents.
Skijoring Events in Colorado
MARCH 1-3, 2019
Skijoring and the Crystal Carnival are always the first full weekend in March. Aside from the equestrian skijoring, attendees can enjoy Nordic Sprints on Harrison Avenue on Friday. Join a fat tire bike ride after dark on the 11-mile Mineral Belt trail ringing this historic mining town. Take part in the Paintball Biathlon: Ski with paintball. Downhill Ski at Ski Cooper and Nordic Ski, Snowshoe, and Snowmobile at Tennessee Pass Nordic Center. Sledding at the Dutch Henry sledding hill; tube rentals available.
Make sure you reserve your lodging today to enjoy all the FUN!
FEBRUARY 6 – 10, 2019
The tradition of skijoring with horses in Steamboat is over 100 years old debuting at the 1915 Winter Carnival. Steamboat Springs LOVE their horses and their winter carnival reflect this, with lots of events that include – HORSES.
On Saturday and Sunday hundreds of people line Lincoln Avenue to witness the wildly popular and entertaining show featuring children on skis (or snowboards) being pulled behind horses down the snow-covered street. Horse Events include: Street Slalom, Ski Joring, Ring & Spear, Ring & Box, the famous Donkey Jump and the Shovel race where adults are pulled by horses while riding on, yup, shovels! There is also a Dog Dash, 3-legged races, ski obstacle course and more.
Make sure you reserve your lodging today to enjoy all the FUN!
February 2 & 3
February 16 & 17
Have you attended skijoring in Leadville, CO? Have you attended skijoring anywhere in the world? What are your thoughts on this wild winter sport?
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