Words by Valerie Brandner / Photography by Paul Brandner
A brisk wind blew in from the east of town as we walked toward main street but the sun was shining and we could already hear the sounds of a big event just around the corner.
Just behind the starting gate was a collection of riders on their horses, all waiting to make their runs. Nostrils flaring and dancing about, these horses were ready to run!
A group of skiers waiting on the other end to join up with their riders and horses, the excitement was palpable. The 2018 Leadville Ski Joring competition was about to begin.
Skijoring competitions and events take place all over the world and consist of a skier being pulled by a tow rope in a waterskiing fashion, by either a sled dog team or a horse, either riderless or with a rider. These are typically long distance races.
In 1949 Leadville, CO started their own brand of Ski Joring (broken out into two words) and this competitive event focuses on speed and agility. The skiers are pulled down main street, which is packed with a foot or so of snow, at great speed.
The skiers are timed and have to navigate a course of slalom poles, jumps, and hanging rings that they need to collect with a small wand. If they miss any of the jumps, rings or slaloms, they are penalized by adding seconds to their finishing time for each violation.
The riders drive the horses, who cannot wait to run as fast as they can down the street, full speed as the skiers navigate the terrain, and collect their rings.
As the competition builds, the winds start to pick up and we can see clouds gathering to the east. It’s getting a bit colder but the fans are getting louder, and the horses faster.
The horses alone are a wonder of power and speed. So spectacular a sight, you can see every muscle rippling through their shaggy winter coats; one can feel the power of these animals as they gallop past.
The cowboys and cowgirls driving the horses are a vision from the old west. Intense and determined, they barrel down main street with the singular goal of getting down the course as fast as they can without loosing their skier.
In close tow, the skiers at first seem to be just hanging on for their lives. Watching the event unfold, you begin to realize that these athletes are focused and very skilled. And not wearing a lot of protection other than a helmet and goggles. These guys and girls are courageous, agile, and so much fun to watch!
This yearly tradition is one that you do not want to miss if you’re ever out in Leadville, Co in March.
The locals are great people and the food and drink around town is western saloon style, first class.
To those passionate souls who fearlessly entertained us for the afternoon, here’s to you and those beautiful animals.