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History of Ski Joring (from Wikipedia)

Ski Joring ('skē-jȯr-iŋ) is a winter sport where a person on skis is pulled by a horse, a dog (or dogs) or a motor vehicle. It is derived from the Norwegian word skikjøring meaning ski driving.


Equestrian Ski Joring

Equestrian Ski Joring consists of a team of a single horse, generally guided by a rider, pulling the person on skis who carries no poles and simply hangs onto a tow rope in a manner akin to water skiing. In France, competitions involve a riderless horse, which is guided by the skier. In all cases, the horses have to be trained to accept the presence of ropes and skier behind them and to remain calm in racing conditions.


Ski Joring behind a horse is said to have originated as a method of winter travel, but today is primarily a competitive sport. Skijoring was a demonstration sport in the 1928 Winter Olympics.




Demonstration Ski Joring competition at the 1928 Winter Olympics, horses seen in the distance, coming around the bend of the track.


In North America, the North American Ski Joring Association sanctions competitions in which a rider guides the horse while the skier navigates a series of jumps and obstacles. More informal competitions are held on flat ground over short courses, often as simple sprint races on a straightaway, sometimes with turns on the course. Competitors often use short skis and modified water skiing towing equipment, though often this is as simple as a single tow rope looped around the horn or attached to the back of a western saddle. Some variants in equipment attach two towing lines to either the back of a saddle or the breastplate on the horse. Timing is typically electronic, with top competitions decided by hundredths of seconds.


Two types of race courses are common in Ski Joring competitions, the straight course and the horseshoe-shaped course. The straight course allows the horse to run at top speed down the middle of the course with the skier navigating slalom gates and jumps ranging from three to nine feet high, set on either side of the horse track. At some events, to add difficulty, the skier is also required to grab one or more rings as they ski past a station on the course. The horseshoe-shaped course allows the horse to run on the inside of the track while the skier navigates slalom racing gates and jumps ranging from four to six feet high.


The World Ski Joring Championships have been held in Whitefish, Montana since 2009, as a part of the annual Whitefish Winter Carnival, usually the last weekend of January. The 2011 World Ski Joring Championships had an actual purse of $19,580 and 91 teams, and also featured a "Murdoch's Long Jump" competition as a separate class, where a horseman pulls a skier straight ahead as fast as possible, with the skier jumping for maximum distance, similar to gelandesprung, but landing on the flat. Skiers are required to land upright. Some teams emphasize a speed-acceleration "crack-the-whip" effect by either having the horse veer to the side immediately before the jump, or the skier will carve his or her own crack-the-whip before attempting the jump. The long jump itself is a 8-10 foot jump and the 2011 winning distance was 56 feet.


The World Ski Joring Championship classes include the Open class (for the top skiers, including some former U.S. Ski Team competitors and fastest horses), the Sport Class, the Black Star Mule Class (where all skiers are required to be pulled by a mule), and the Great Northern Novice Class, in addition to the long jump class.


While Ski Joriing in Whitefish began in the 1960's, the "modern era" of ski joring was re-instituted in 2003 by long-time locals Scott Ping and Dale Duff. The hallmarks of this annual event include the largest added money and largest purse with the lowest entry fees. The World Skijoring Championships has even spawned a local recreational skijoring league.


The city of Leadville, Colorado has organized an equestrian competition since 1949, which has a much higher emphasis on speed.  A horse and rider pull a skier at a fast pace through a course that has gates, jumps and rings. The skier is timed through the course, and penalties are assessed by missing gates or jumps, and by missing or dropping any of the rings (two seconds each). The competitors race for cash prizes, and teams are made up by a random draw before the start.


A history of Ski Joring in Whitefish

As reported in the London Independent, Pamplona may have its running of the bulls, St Mortiz its tobogganing maniacs and Warren Miller its cast of crazies but Ski Joring has been part of the Whitefish Winter Carnival since the 1960's.


Founding Father of the Carnival, Norm Kurtz, challenged local ski legends of the Big Mountain Ski Resort, Martin Hale, Dale Evenson, Gordy Taylor, Dick Maddox and others to take part in the high speed event. He also recruited Mountain Trails Saddle Club horsemen, Elmer Smith, Herb Knuth, the Morris brothers, Doc Kauffman and others to saddle up their fastest broomtails to pull the skiers. There was no cowboy chic to it--just get the rope around the horn and go!!


Fifty years ago, it was wild, out of control and an absolute blast! 


The event was held downtown on Central Avenue in the early years but after local businessman Russ Street was nearly thrown through the window of the Toggery clothing store and a crowd of spectators was parted by a couple of runaway horses, the event moved to the fenced Mountain Trails Saddle Club, on Wisconsin Avenue, (where the Stumptown Ice Den now stands).


Reckless abandon and great fun continued every year until the mid 1970's when, due to injuries, the Whitefish Winter Carnival organizing committee could no longer place insurance (somehow, a great visual charicature of that year's organizing committee comes to mind).


As a result, street broom hockey, snowmobile jumps on Central Avenue, the Great Bar-to-Bar Snowshoe Race and Ski Joring were all dropped from the Winter Carnival venue.


But in 2003 local businessman Scott Ping spearheaded a successful campaign to bring this exciting event back as part of the Whitefish Winter Carnival. With continued improvement each year, it has become more exciting than ever to both watch and compete.


The Whitefish event has become known as the premiere event in skijoring and the World Ski Joring Championships now features the biggest cash purse (approximately $20,000 plus awards), solid entertaining competition, and for spectators, the biggest party on snow.