The Nugget

Skijoring: Your New Favorite Winter Sport

Helena Holds its First Skijoring Competition

Skijoring+in+Lakeside%2C+Montana+
Skijoring in Lakeside, Montana

Skijoring in Lakeside, Montana

Skijoring in Lakeside, Montana

Becky Demontigny, Head Writer

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Though the sport of skijoring is becoming more and more popular, many people are not aware of it at all. Skijoring is a winter sport in which a person on skis is pulled behind a horse, dog, or motorized vehicle. The creative term comes from the Norwegian language in which it means ski driving. Aside from the Norwegian history of skijoring, equine skijoring was initially demonstrated to the public for the first time at the 1928 Winter Olympics.

Surprisingly, the World Equestrian Skijoring Championship is held in our very own state of Montana! Since 2009 the world championship has been held in Whitefish, Montana during their Whitefish Winter Carnival. This event has an average purse of $19,000 with up to 91 teams often attending. Whitefish also has several world records that they keep track of; for instance at the 2011 championship a record long jump of 56 feet was recorded.

After all the recent buzz with skijoring becoming more and more popular each winter, Helena decided to see what it was all about. On January 6th and 7th, Helena held its first ever skijoring competition called “Last Chance Skijoring – Race for the Gold” at the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds. Volunteers started constructing the course a week before the event to be prepared for the 100+ teams that were to arrive. The two days of competition was divided into three levels; novice, sport, and open. Teams from all over Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Calgary, and Alberta competed in the race. Even Helena’s newly elected mayor, Wilmot Collins joined in on the fun and tried out his luck on the extravagant course. It came out to be a 900 foot long course that included a tabletop, three jumps, and a bank wall for skiers and riders to make their way through. The event stirred up a great deal of commotion in Helena as the fairgrounds was packed with new fans interested in what this amusing sport was all about. Hopefully this will now be something that returns to Helena for years to come.

Although horseback skijoring is most popular, using dogs for the sport is also an option. When using dogs to do this they have a similar setup to a dog sled; the dog wears a harness which in this case is attached to a skier with a corresponding harness. Gaining power in this form of the sport is more difficult than the others. The skier must use ski poles and the dogs must be able to run fast in order for the team to succeed. Any breed of dog can partake in this fun event as long as they like to run trails and are able to pull weight. However dogs lighter than 40 pounds are not very suitable to be able to pull the skier’s weight. The very first dog involved skijoring race took place in Scandinavia, though nowadays annual races held in Russia and the Yukon for the teams to attend.

On the other hand, equestrian skijoring involves a horse, rider, and a skier holding on with nothing else but a rope; this form similar to that of water skiing. The difference between dogs and horses in this sport is that dogs do not need to be trained while horses must be trained to accept the fact that they will pull a skier on a tow rope. North America takes equestrian skijoring very seriously as they have a North American Ski Joring Association. This association holds races throughout the continent where the horse must pull the skier through a series of jumps and obstacles. There is also flat ground races although the association classifies those as “informal”. The informal competitions allow the horse to reach top speeds in a single straightaway. In comparison, more formal races include jumps ranging from three to nine feet high and to add difficulty the skier is also required to grab one or more rings at stations throughout the course. In addition to the world championships in Whitefish, Lakeside, Montana held its first championship race this past New Years weekend. Though the longest running equestrian skijoring competition has been held in Leadville, Colorado ever since 1949.

The last form of the skijoring sport is done with motorized vehicles. This is almost the same form as equine skijoring, except in this case the horse is replaced by a snowmobile or other snow friendly motorized vehicle. Doing the sport in such fashion can be done at higher speeds than dog and equine. Motorized skijoring was introduced to the public in 1963 in Augustusburg, Germany.

Happy Skijoring!

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Skijoring: Your New Favorite Winter Sport