Giddy up, cowboy.
You’re in for the ride of your life.
Believe it or not, there are still towns in the United States where a horse may obligingly drag you around around on the end of a rope with two sticks strapped to your feet. Some call it crazy, others (and a passionate few, at that) call it skijoring–a sport rooted in Scandinavia that, as a sport, took a strong hold in the American West thanks to the region’s affinity for horses and skiing. Skijoring was not always a sport, though, and has had a much more practical history.
The word comes from the Norwegian word skikjøring meaning ski driving, and was primarily used as a means of getting around the snowy Scandinavian landscape, often pulled by dogs. Later, immigrants brought the same techniques to the unyielding landscapes of the R0cky Mountains, replacing dogs with the preferred horse, to make getting to trap lines and delivering mail in the high country a little easier.
But we have moved on from those days, and skijoring now denotes an activity in which a skier holds on to the end of a 30ft rope, is rocketed along at full tilt, and navigates through a course filled with jumps, pylons to weave through, and even rings to collect. Just like the old mail men did it, right?
Why you may not of heard of the sport.
Beyond being an excellent method of getting your mail during a blizzard, skijoring is an incredibly challenging and remarkably entertaining sport, so why hasn’t it made it onto our TVs? The sport had a fleeting chance when Denver won the bid for the 1976 Winter Olympics, who had listed the sport as an exhibition event, but the committee removed it before anything could happen. And unfortunately the sport has since remained, for the most part, in the stable.
But in pockets of the West the sport is alive and well.
If any group of people were to keep the spirit of skijoring alive in the United States it would be in the place that it all began. Revolving primarily around Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado, events dot the Western landscape and, lucky for you, sometimes take place in ski towns with a vibrant cowboy flair.
For the best of the best, though, there is no greater place to watch the action than in Whitefish, MT. Host to the World Invitational Skijoring Championships and nestled in the idyllic mountain landscape of the Flathead Valley, each year Whitefish becomes a confluence of the best horse, rider, and skier trios from around the world. Perhaps best of all, you can ski under the banner of Glacier National Park at Whitefish Mountain Resort just up the road all in the same trip. The race happens on the last Sunday of January every year, which means you might have missed it this year, but never fear, other events are happening around the West this season, including one more in the Flathead.
Though Jackson Hole had to cancel their skijoring event due to snow conditions, here’s a good look at what holding on for dear life looks like.
Where else to watch skijoring.
If you’re skiing out West this year and looking for a place to catch a race, here’s some upcoming events worth a look.
- Montana Classic – Feb. 2nd & 3rd | Gallatin Gateway, MT
- Closest Skiing – Big Sky Resort (31mi) , Bridger Bowl (33mi)
- Best in the West Showdown – Feb. 9th & 10th | Big Sky, MT
- Closest Skiing – Big Sky Resort (6mi)
- Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival – Saturday Feb 9th | Steamboat Springs, CO
- Closest Skiing – Steamboat Resort (4mi)
- Wood River Extreme Skijoring – Feb. 16th & 17th | Hailey, ID
- Closest Skiing – Sun Valley Resort (13mi)
- Leadville Ski Joring – March 2nd & 3rd | Leadville, CO
- Skijoring at Rebecca Farm – March 2nd & 3rd | Kalispell, MT
- Closest Skiing – Whitefish Mountain Resort (22mi)
- Skijor West – March 9th & 10th | West Yellowstone, MT
- Closest Skiing – Big Sky Resort (51mi.)
- Red Lodge National Finals – March 9th & 10th | Red Lodge, MT
- Closest Skiing – Red Lodge Mountain (7mi)