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.
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.