Red Lodge hosts its version of the X-games on March 12 and 13.
Ski-joring, the sport of towed skiing behind horse and rider, originated in Scandinavia in the form of winter transportation. In the mid-1950s, 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 straight-away, according to the North American Ski-Joring Association.
The sport lives on through the National Finals Ski-Joring competition held annually in Red Lodge.
“For the newcomer, it will be unlike anything they've ever seen,” said Tami Stevens, who helps organize the annual event.
And they're off
Ski-joring is a timed sport, featuring a horse and rider pulling a skier over a speed course with jumps and racing gates.
“There are essentially two tracks on the course, one for the horse to run on and one with jumps and gates for the skier,” Stevens said. “And it can get a little wild out there.”
Stevens, who has participated in the sport for several years, said there's no foolproof way to train for the event.
“Pretty much, you just need to get out on a flat snowy field, get behind a horse and get the feel for being pulled,” she said.
Dangers do exist, like dodging flying dirt clods and icicles.
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“You'll definitely want to be wearing goggles,” she added.
Rules and regs
During the competition, the skier must be upright and on at least one ski while crossing the finish line. A five-second penalty is incurred for each gate a rider misses.
Put on by a dedicated volunteer staff, the National Finals Ski-Joring races include Open Sport, Women's, Junior Age (13-17) and the Pee Wee division for those 12 and under. First place in the junior division is awarded a gift certificate toward a horse at Billings Livestock and skis from the Ski Station. Winners in the Pee Wee division win belt buckles and handsome cash prizes are awarded in the adult divisions.
There is a separate “longest jump” competition where the rider and horse pull a skier over one jump for the longest distance each day. Distances have exceeded 60 feet.
The event will be held at the Home of Champions Rodeo Ground off Highway 87, about a quarter-mile west of Red Lodge.
Admission for the one-of-a-kind event is $5 for the general public, and kids 12 and under are free. Stevens said that volunteers will have flatbed pickups set up around the track and spectators are encouraged to come take a seat to get a front-row view.
Races begin between 11 and noon each day, so be sure to get there early to reserve your spot. Parking is free and concessions will be available.