Some skiers don’t need a
“Ski joring – it’s not that dangerous,” said Frisco resident Bruce Stott, who broke his shoulder winning the long jump event in last year’s competition when he flew 77 feet, five inches and landed on his side. This year, he won Saturday’s pro division course event with the help of Leadville equestrian Erica Dube.
“The curb and the sidewalk are your biggest worries, since they’re about 10 inches off the course,” he said. “There’s a skier, a horse rider and a horse, and unforeseen things can happen.”
On Sunday, such unforeseen things included fellow Frisco ski jorer Dave Connors veering off course and barrelling into the sidewalk at high speed, promptly dispersing the crowd, but not injuring himself or anyone else.
Connor, Stott and fellow Summit County resident Mike Meindl have been competing in ski joring events for several years.
According to the North American Ski Joring Association (NASJA), which wrapped up its six-part 2003 competition series Feb. 15 and 16 in Sun Valley, Idaho, the sport began hundreds of years ago in Scandinavian countries and came to American in the 1950s. The association helped refine it into a sport where competitors – skier, horse and rider – are judged on their speed down a course where they pick up points for jumps, gates and spearing rings.
This year, the NASJA circuit hit Durango, Cascade and McCall, Idaho, Jackson Hole, Wyo. and Whitefish, Mont. The Leadville competition has sometimes been a part of the circuit, as has the now-defunct Frisco Ski Joring event, which last took place in 2001. According to Frisco representatives, the local won’t likely be making it’s way back into town anytime soon, now that Marina Road, where the event took place, has been altered and no longer has the space for the course, which has to be at least 800 feet long.
“It’s a really great event and it breaks my heart we don’t have it anymore,” said Linda Lichtendahl, town of Frisco community relations director. “It combines the Old West cowboy thing with skiing and that’s what we’re all about here. We had a bunch of skiers that wanted to do it, but not many riders. The potential isn’t there for making money. We couldn’t find people who could work with us.”
On the skier end of things, having any kind of alpine or freestyle competition experience is key in ski joring.
“If you’re a solid skier, it’s not a problem,” said Meindl, who was introduced to ski joring about 20 years ago by some cowboy friends. “There aren’t any avalanches involved, and you’ll be OK if you’ve got a good guy pulling you and a good horse. I water ski a lot, but I guess that’s nothing like ski joring – it gets you used to being tugged. They used to have an event in Dillon, as part of the winter carnival. It’s got a lot of history.”
“It’s much more (of) a thrill than ski racing,” said Gelatt, who used to coach the Summit High School alpine team. “The horse enlivens it and gives it a new thrill and unpredictability. The jumps are huge and the horses are fast.”
Like water skiing, the skier zig zags through the course behind the horse, but instead of riding with the wake, often finds himself dodging snow flying off the horse’s hooves.
“They’re big chunks of ice,” Meindl said. “They could hit you right in the face or the nuts … You have to be careful. You’re going 40 miles per hour, the horse is going 40 miles per hour; that ice is going 80 miles per hour when it hits you.”
Kevin Sisti, who helps organize the Leadville ski joring event and had a hand in the Frisco event during its three-year existence, took eighth Sunday in Leadville, and, in addition to competing as a skier, is also getting into the cowboy side of the sport.
“I’m getting into the riding aspect,” he said. “To me, that’s the crazy part. You’re on this animal going 40 miles per hour. But, it’s all crazy. It’s unlike anything you’re going to do on the mountain as far as racing goes. When you’re on the mountain, it’s you and the course. When you’re ski joring, it’s you, it’s the rope, it’s the horse, and every time you go across the middle, you’re getting nailed with snow, ice and gates. It’s 15 seconds of total adrenaline rush.”
Shauna Farnell can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 236, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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