Four hooves, three heartbeats, two skis and one goal to get the fastest time. A skijoring competition in Big Sky last weekend combined these elements into one of the most exhilarating winter sports.
“You’re basically being towed behind a towboat, but the towboat is alive, and the person on the towboat is also alive, and there is maneuvering, and a lot of communication between the rider and skier,” said Justa Adams, President of Big Sky Skijoring.
The organization hosted its major annual competition of the year, part of The Best in the West Showdown. Music, food, charismatic announcers, snowmobiles doing jumps over the course and a lively atmosphere all supported the fast paced sport over ice and snow. Skijoring itself involves a skier or snowboarder going over jumps and around gates while being pulled by a rider on horseback.
The event hosted 180 teams, comprised of both skiers and riders who competed both Saturday and Sunday for average wins, daily wins and calcutta bid wins. These achievements are scored based on the contestant's timed runs through the course.
The course itself is 600-1000 feet long with a series of jumps and gates for contestants to maneuver through. For skiers, there are red and blue gates on the course and similar to slalom events where they have to go right and left respectively. For snowboarders there are green gates for them to go through. Each missed gate is a five second penalty on the total time.
While the event was focused on the sport, it revolved heavily around the community.
“I love when I see the families that make the commitments, the families that bring the kids and the strollers,” Adams said.
Spectators and competitors come from all over the country. There were contestants that traveled from Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho among other places, “I had clients that flew in from Kentucky, I had friends that flew in to volunteer from South Carolina, my mom flew in from Florida,” Adams said.
Competitors ranged from the small to the tall. Some of the faster contestants had been practicing for years and some were just starting out. A crowd favorite was a pair of five year old twins who took turns pulling each other on their miniature pony.
“I think people are really just starting to figure out what skijoring is,” Adams said. “Now they’re like ‘I want to come back every year. I'm planning my ski trip around this, just to be able to come and have a good time.’”
The community of the athletes is immense as well.
“Everyone’s like, ‘can I pull you next weekend, what are you doing,’ trying to make plans, and it's a fun way to meet people,” competitor Kristin Van Everen said.
This is Big Sky Skijoring’s sixth year in operation and their fifth event due to COVID-19. It started when Adams was introduced to the sport by a friend. After competing for a few years, she was approached to start an event in Big Sky.
“It started on a tiny little thing with three weeks of planning but I started fundraising, the community gave me $12,000 in three weeks,” Adams said. “I’m a complete volunteer, but the community gave me money and the ability to pull it off the first year very quickly, and it’s grown and gotten bigger and better each year since,” Adams said.
Van Everen, who is from Whitefish, said there are options for those looking to get into the sport. “There are weekly practices that are open to the public with Scott Ping, who owns the Skijoring Magazine. And I know there’s one in Bozeman as well,” Van Everen said.
Those who are looking to learn more about the sport should look at Big Sky Skijoring’s instagram page, @bigskyskijoring. And, they can check out skijoring magazine, https://www.skijoringmagazine.com.