SANDPOINT, Idaho - The sport of skijoring sounds like an awesomely bad idea someone cooked up on a long winter's night. Picture this: You navigate an obstacle course, on skis, while being pulled by a galloping horse. Yet equestrian skijoring has taken off as a sport in the snowy climes of Switzerland, Canada, and now, parts of the Northwest. This weekend, teams will go ski-to-ski and hoof-to-hoof at a competition in Sandpoint, Idaho.
When a bunch of skijorers get together, the first thing you notice is that something is just … off. And has to do with their stuff. Leather riding boots next to big plastic ski boots. The jingle of bridles … mixing with the snapping of ski bindings.
This is stuff you never see together.
Dylan DeCrow is a 19-year-old snowboarder. He's here to give skijoring, or in his case board-joring, a try.
“It's different, I guess,” he says.
When I asked him what his first reaction was when he first heard about this sport, DeCrow says with a laugh, “I was like, 'Whaaat?'"
Once everyone has signed a release form, we get to see just how “different” it is.
One after another, skiers and snowboarders line up. They grip the end of a 50 foot rope, tied to the horn of their rider's saddle, and take off around a horseshoe shaped course. It's like waterskiing, but on snow. With a horse. And with obstacles and jumps.
Chrissy Smart is one of the organizers of Sandpoint's skijoring competition. She says the goal here is to get through the course as fast as possible.
“And then you have to be holding on to the rope to finish. And you have to have at least one ski on. We've seen that!”
Smart says skijoring isn't as crazy as it sounds. It’s roots are in Scandinavian practicality. People, even today, have been known to use dogs or horses to power across the snow in winter.
As a sport, Smart says it's still in its infancy. But she says skijoring marries two sides of north Idaho: cowboys and ski bums.
“And there's some really neat people in both cultures. And bringing them together – people who don't hang out together normally – it's really fun to see them get together and make a team.”
Part of that team is the horse. Jody Kirby brought Babe, a draft horse. If you’re not a horse person – think Budweiser. But Kirby says some horses aren't too keen on having a skier tailing behind them.
“Most of the horses, the biggest thing is the sound and especially when you do the jumps, 'cause there's quiet and then the slap of the skis and the snowboard. That's the biggest thing.”
Most competitions have both veterinarians and medics on hand. Ray Masters has already taken a fall.
“I had already let go of the rope and I just ate it.”
My first reaction when I heard about this sport was, why would anyone want to do that?
Masters replies, “It’s just something new and exciting. It’s a way of combining two sports -- a winter sport with a spring and summer sport. So, it’s something else to do.”
In the end, the question skijorers prefer to ask themselves is: Why not?
On the Web:
Sandpoint Skijoring - official site
North American Ski Joring Association - official site