Skijoring for a cause
Folks visiting Deadwood will experience an event new to the area in 2017: skijoring. The Black Hills Ski Team in conjunction with Ski Joring America will host the event Feb. 2 at the Days of ’76 Rodeo grounds during the Black Hills Stock Show.
The event is a fundraiser for the youth ski team to keep them on the road competing in downhill skiing.
“The idea came about because we’re a small group but the kids need money. It’s a way to get our community more involved with skiing,” event coordinator and ski-team parent Yolonda Long said. “We talked about cowboy downhilling, but we thought about dragging trailers up to Terry Peak and decided not. We visited with Black Hills Stock Show Marketing Manager Kadee Hande, and she said she wanted to do ski joring for forever. We couldn’t guarantee there would be snow in Rapid City, so we looked around and decided on Deadwood.”
Skijoring involves a team of two: a skier and a rider. The horse and rider are timed as the skier navigates a course, hitting jumps, flying around curves and picking up rings.
“It is an incredibly exhilarating sport to compete in,” said Cregan Ortner, a rider who has pulled skiers in the Leadville, Colorado, event, “the longest-running ski joring competition in the US. Running a horse full speed in snow, while towing a skier is an experience for all involved.”
“We’re going to be part of Ski Joring America. They’ll be doing promo videos and designing our course,” Long said. “Right now it looks like course will be a horseshoe shape in the arena. We’ll prep the snow after snow cross and make four-foot jumps and have rings. Hopefully this year goes well and next year we can open it up more yet. We want to make sure we have a well-run race.”
RJ Klotz, Ski Joring America board member and secretary, event host and promoter of the event in Bozeman, Montana, will design the course to fit the rodeo grounds.
“The course will be completely based on the snowmobile race they’re having prior to the event. It’s completely dependent on that,” he said. “I’m not sure what course is going to look like quite yet. There will be roughly three jumps, if they want to have rings they can, if they get a set built.”
As a skijorer himself, Klotz said it’s a rush.
“For skiers, it’s kind of an adrenaline rush. You have snow and ice being thrown in your face while you’re skiing down a course at upwards of 35 mph. It’s hard to explain because I have a pretty good ski background. To describe to a normal, average skier is difficult because it is such an adrenaline-pumping event.”
Cash and belt buckles are up for grabs for skijoring winners.
“Belle Fourche Livestock is sponsoring buckles. We’re looking for a fast time sponsor. It’s just started getting a lot bigger,” Long said. “The minute I posted it, it started getting really big. I haven’t had a chance to find my feet and catch up. We are going to pay out four holes, and calcutta the top 12, as well as give fast time cash.”
This year’s event is open to 40 entrants. More than half of the spots have been filled. Entry for each team is $200 and each horse may only run once. Teams may find a sponsor, and no one under 18 years of age may compete. The top 12 teams will compete in the short-go.
“Hopefully next year we can do a novice division open to kids,” Long said. “Two of the ski team kids will do an exhibition if the pony cooperates.”
To get into the event, a $10 donation will be accepted and VIP seating is available.
“We’re selling VIP ahead of time in groupings of 10 for a sponsor. They can advertise and hang a banner,” Long said, adding that Cadillac Jack in Deadwood is offering discounted rooms for the event.
Skijoring is not a new event, though it is has been modernized and is continually gaining popularity.
“Basically it was founded in Scandinavian countries as a form of transportation. They originally used dogs. I’ve heard stories that ski joring has been around since WWI and in Scandinavian countries since late 1800s or early 1900s,” Klotz said. “In western states, it became true when some cowboys were sitting in a bar. They got in an argument about who has the fastest horse and fastest skier, so they had a race down main street. That’s how ski joring was brought to Western states.”
Black Hills Ski Team consists of 40 youth five-years and older; fifteen of the team members travel.
“Our ski team has been getting bigger. We’re getting the feet under our team, so they can continue to race. This helps support our local kids; these kids travel to Big Sky, Bridger, they seem to travel quite a bit further than some of the other teams because we race in Montana,” Long said. “The event is a way of combining our ranching community with our skiing community. It’s a way to raise money for the group of kids.”