Bruce Stott of Frisco still skijors in Leadville like ‘liquid silk’
More horse-towed ski race action Sunday down Leadville's Harrison Avenue
LEADVILLE — For years, Tim Everett of Jasper, Minnesota had heard of Leadville Ski Joring. After a 13-hour drive on Friday from his home to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Everett got to see it for the first time. He chatted with competing horseback riders and skiers Saturday afternoon under the sun at 10,000 feet while admiring the majestic beautify of Mounts Elbert and Massive on the horizon line.
“I’ve been to Colorado before,” the 58-year-old carpenter added, “But not out to the good part. This is just amazing here.”
Did the sport of skijoring — where a skier navigates slalom-like gates and terrain park jumps while being towed by rope behind a horse and horseback rider — compare to any sport he’d ever seen before?
“Nothing ever,” he said. “This is really good.”
On Friday, while Everett drove 13 hours across the heart of the High Country, Bruce Stott of Frisco had his own 12-plus hour day. The 48-year-old skijoring veteran arrived at Leadville’s Harrison Avenue at 3:45 a.m., to help turn the iconic 10,000-foot town’s main drag into the skijoring mecca it’s been for more than seven decades.
He helped manicure the snow, building 8-foot-plus jumps for the high-level Open division, while dump truck after dump truck deposited snow on Harrison Avenue, working through 5 p.m., evening before his sister Vicki Koch, the owner of High Mountain Pies in Leadville, rewarded him with a form of carbo-loading before Saturday and Sunday’s skijoring: two big trays of lasagna.
After staying with his sister Friday night, Stott joined fellow Open division competitors Shawn Gerber of Edwards and the Dahl brothers, Jason and Greg, to set the course, gauging exactly where gates, rings and jumps should be.
Then as Saturday’s warm forecast crystallized — temperatures topped out at a balmy 52 degrees in the afternoon — Stott, Gerber and the other Open division riders convinced race organizers to bump up their start time to 11 a.m. The change was in order to have the most skilled skiers and the most powerful horses run through the course during colder temperatures earlier in the day before slushed-out snow led to tougher edging conditions and problematic footing for the horses.
The Open division is the highest level of racers. It includes the likes of Gerber, who’s been racing since 2004, and his good friend Stott who has raced the skijor circuit around the mountain west ever since the former Alpine and freeskier raced at the penultimate Frisco skijor in 2000.
“I made 1,800 bucks that weekend and thought, ‘I’ll keep doing this,’” Stott said.
Two decades later, skijoring in Frisco is a distant memory, likely never to return to Summit. But in Leadville, longtime event organizers like Duffy Counsell have done their part to not only keep the event going, but to have it continue to be one of the town’s biggest draws each year.
On Sunday, much like on Saturday, it’ll be a standing-room only crowd all down Harrison Avenue, on-lookers eagerly watching what Gerber dubbed as “15 seconds of pure adrenaline.” The crowd will watch to see which skiers can carve their racing skis around gates, keep speed off jumps and collect rings along the way.
On his short giant slalom skis and in his park boots, Stott, a previous Leadville champion, didn’t race as well as he would have liked with his horse Tank, a big former race horse from New Mexico.
Focusing on staying forward in his skis to help hold his edges through the slush, Gerber raced well with his horse Cooper’s Hot Blood, but didn’t crack the top-3. Gerber said Sunday would be a different story, especially for a veteran like Stott. The soft-spoken Stott’s been so successful in the past he’s posted the top-3 times at contests to earn the nickname “podium,” posing for pictures while widely squatting over the first-, second- and third-place positions.
“He’s a Sunday guy,” Gerber said of Stott, who he stated skis as smooth as “liquid silk.” “He’ll come back. You never stump him two days in a row. That’s for sure.”
Stott and Gerber, each in their late 40s, are racers who bridge the past, present and future of Rocky Mountain skijoring. They both look up to and have connections with the late Jody Manly, a Leadville local regarded as “the Godfather of skijoring.” As new skiers and horseback riders try their luck in the Sport division, Stott and Gerber keep racing in the Open despite their age. Gerber kids that at 40 skijorers begin to think about switching to Sport, but he and his pal Stott haven’t yet.
They’re still here to race against the best who descend on Harrison Avenue, including Jason and Greg Dahl. They are a part of the gang of skijorers Counsell presented with red “Make Skijoring Great Again” baseball caps a couple years back.
“We’re the old guard,” Gerber said with a laugh. “You know, it takes a couple of days for that adrenaline to subside. You’re amped up. It’s the best natural drug, better than anything you can get out there.”
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