SILVERTON – The Wild West returns to Silverton this weekend, with race horses hurtling down snowy Blair Street at breakneck speed pulling daredevil skiers behind them for the fourth annual Silverton Ski-joring races. The two-day spectacle takes place Saturday, Feb. 16 and Sunday, Feb. 17, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The event delivers huge thrills for competitors and spectators alike, as skiers navigate a series of 6-foot high jumps and obstacles on a straightaway through the historic heart of Silverton, while being towed behind a galloping mounted steed.
The Silverton Ski-joring weekend, put on by a grassroots group of local enthusiasts, is open to both novices and experienced competitors. The prize money goes to both the fastest skiers and horse riders, in both categories.
Participants may choose to sign up as a Matched Team (skier, horse and rider) but skiers need not have a horse to register, said Laura Des Palmes, a spokeswoman for the event. Skiers will be matched with available horses by random draw at registration each day prior to the race. Competitors must be 18 (or older), or 16 and up with a parent’s permission.
The novice course does not include jumps and obstacles, but all competitors including novices must make it through a series of gates, collecting rings along the way. If they miss a gate or drop a ring they get two seconds added to their time. The skier and rider with the fastest time win.
Spectating is free; dogs are not allowed. Berms of snow have been built up on either side of Blair Street for safe viewing and incredible photo ops.
Silverton Ski-joring has developed quite a fan base over the past several years. “It’s like the Fourth of July in wintertime. We get spectators from all over,” Des Palmes said. “This year we expect more than ever. A lot of shops and restaurants will be open. There will be plenty to do besides ski-joring.”
The numbers of participants have been growing, too. Last year there were 25 matched teams of horses, riders and skiers who traveled to Silverton from throughout the region, many of them experienced competitors who attend Colorado’s circuit of ski-joring events, in places like Leadville and Crested Butte.
Several Ridgway ranching families are hugely into the sport.
Anyone can sign up to race, Des Palmes said, but there is no guarantee there will be enough horses to go around. “If you don’t get to race, you get your registration fee back,” she said. Competitors must bring their own skis and helmet.
According to the North American Ski-joring Association, the sport began several hundred years ago in Scandinavian countries as a way to travel during the long winters, with Laplanders on Nordic skis holding the reins attached to reindeer. Ski-joring found its way to North America, where ranchers attached a long rope to the saddle horn of a horse that was ridden at high speeds down a long straightaway. Today, equestrian ski-joring has become a highly specialized competitive sport, with competitions taking place in more than five states in the U.S., and in several countries worldwide. In some parts of the world, skiers are pulled behind dogs, mules or snowmobiles.
For more information, check out Silverton Ski-joring on Facebook or visit www.silvertonski-joring.com.
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