LEADVILLE - A boisterous crowd gathered along Harrison Avenue Saturday and Sunday to witness the 2013 Leadville Skijoring Championships - an event that's been ongoing since its inauguration in 1949.
Grasping a rope attached to a thunderous horse, skiers flew through an 800-foot course - constructed in the heart of downtown Leadville - collecting rings and launching off jumps to record the fastest time. Penalties were added to times for missed rings and missed jumps for the skiers, who were grouped into three divisions throughout the event. Of those three divisions, Bruce Stott, a Frisco native, took first in the open division - among the most exciting classes in the field.
Event coordinator Jason Dahl was ecstatic about the passion the town of Leadville and its visitors brought to this year's event.
"We're the only place that shuts down the main road to haul in truckloads of snow. There's nothing like it. We started at 4 Saturday morning," he said.
More than 110 truckloads of snow were dumped onto Harrison Avenue to construct this year's course.
"It's a face-paced course. It's challenging, but not dangerous," Dahl said.
The event attracts competitors from across the continent - people who possess an undying passion for not only the sport, but the rush it brings as well. Competitor and Minnesota native Mike Fries has been riding in multiple skijoring events and admits Leadville's is second to none.
"It's the snow on the main street. This is the biggest and best event. Huge crowd, the jumps are the biggest, the track is the fastest. I tried it once and have been hooked ever since," Fries said.
The skier is maneuvering turns and collecting rings, but the horse and rider are just as important to a successful run.
Allen Bearden, who has been pulling skiers in skijoring for the past five years, praises the Leadville event.
"It's just having the crowd cheering," he said. "It's an adrenaline rush and the horse loves it too. It's fun to pull new people out there. We've got people from Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico and Durango. We're trying to get more events across the state."
Three divisions comprised this year's event: legends, sport and open. The legends division consisted of skiers 45 or older and who have been competing in the sport of skijoring for at least 10 years. The sport division was designed for first year competitors while the open division included the most competitive and exciting of skiers and riders. In each division, skiers were allowed two runs - one with the horse and rider of their choice and second by way of random drawing.
Prizes were awarded to the top finishers of each day and also to the competitor with the best average time for both days.
Stott took first in the open division both Saturday and Sunday, completing the 800-foot track in 14.99 and 14.91 seconds, respectively. Stott, a 14-year skijoring veteran, was thrilled to take home the title at Leadville.
"It's close to home and I have family that live here so it makes it kind of local for me," he said. "The horse makes a big difference. You have to have a fast horse and a fast skier and I was able to team up with the appropriate horse."