Skijor USA brings new competition to Northwest Colorado
January 25, 2019
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Skijor USA is hoping to grow the sport by holding its first-ever skijoring races in Steamboat Springs this weekend.
Skijoring teams consist of a rider, a horse and a skier. The rider drives the horse while the skier is pulled by a long hemp rope from behind the horse. The name, "skijoring" is derived from a closely-related Norwegian word, skikjøring, which means "ski driving." The sport has a storied history in the United States' West but also takes place in certain areas of Europe and Canada.
Loren Zhimanskova, who resides in Yampa, wanted an opportunity for locals to participate in skijoring beyond the Winter Carnival event every year.
"I love the Winter Carnival, and I think it’s a great tradition, but I know that’s a limited opportunity. It fills up really fast," Zhimanskova said. "I think a lot of people would like to experience skijoring in a different way — kids can pull siblings, and adults can compete against each other for cash prizes. It’s really building on a tradition here in Steamboat that is 100 years old."
The event, set for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, and Sunday, Jan. 27, will take place at Kevin and Chris Sherrod's Bitter Sweet Ranch, 5 miles outside of town.
The competitions will be different from the conventional skijoring locals are used to. The tracks will span 600 to 900 feet and will include obstacles for both the skier and the horse to test their skills through a complete run.
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"Horses run straight down the middle, and there's an obstacle course on either side for the horse," Zhimanskova said. "There are jumps or banked turns, drop-offs, ring stands where the skier has to reach out with one arm and grab a ring and gates to do a slalom. If you miss any obstacles it’s a penalty. The object is to coordinate efforts with your rider and skier to get a clean run."
Steamboat Springs' race is a part of a larger circuit with Skijor USA, a series of 10 races that culminate with a national championship finals in West Yellowstone, Montana, on March 9 and 10.
Teams can be a a mix of all ages, and beginners are also encouraged to come out and give skijoring a try during prerace clinics. It's mandatory that participants bring their own horses and also train them to pull objects behind them before attending for safety purposes.
Children can enter in teams for $25 per day, while adults can compete for $100 for the whole weekend. Participation is capped at 100 teams for course safety.
Winners will receive belt buckles that have been custom designed by Tres Rios, along with other gifts from local sponsors and a cash prize based on how much money is raised. Money raised from gate fees and concession sales will benefit the Veteran Barn Door Project, which uses equine therapy to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Even if it gets more competitive and more involved, we want to make sure we have that charitable side," Zhimanskova said.
For now, Skijor USA is holding races in the western parts of the country, including competitive fields that are separated into regions: north, central and south. The north region consists of Montana participants, central is Wyoming, Idaho and Utah and southern includes Colorado and New Mexico.
The national competition in Montana is set to have a $20,000 prize purse for the winner.
"Skijoring is the perfect answer for a lot of western towns to help their community during winter months where they can get cabin fever," Zhimanskova said. "Our sport seems to be filling a need for these communities."
Visit steamboatskijoring.com for more information about the event.