Are you ready to cowboy up? Then put on those spurs, wax your skis and ride on down to Bellevue this weekend for the Wood River Extreme Ski Joring Association's annual races.
Though its roots, as with most alpine sports, can be found in Scandinavia, ski joring is a true product of the West. The symbiotic union of the skill of the cowboy, speed of the horse and sheer, insane bravery of the skier as they barrel down a snow-covered track is a thrilling spectator sport—from a safe distance.
"I remember seeing [historical] pictures of guys all racing at the same time," said Tyler Peterson, president of the Wood River Extreme Ski Joring Association. "It wasn't a timed event back them, everyone lined up, five or 10 in a row, and raced. There was no rider on the horse, the skier had a harness looped around his back and drove the horse with reins. You can imagine the kind of wrecks they had!"
Today, the sport has a lot more polish, and participants compete against the clock rather than directly with each other. The modern, highly specialized competition currently sweeping the nation was devised in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in 1999. Representatives of the burgeoning sport from across the country gathered at the ski resort in April of that year to create the North American Ski Joring Association. From there, the sanctioned sport on show in Bellevue this weekend was born.
"Ever since [that meeting in Jackson Hole] there have been offshoot races in different towns and places across the West. Some are nationally sanctioned and some are not, but in the last five to six years, it's really gotten big back East," Peterson said. "And in the last two or three years, Canada has really taken off. Today there are probably close to 30 races annually, compared to barely a dozen when I first got involved 15 years ago. It's really beginning to take off."
For the uninitiated, Peterson explains ski joring as "like strapping on skis and hanging onto a rope. It's kind of a combination between snow skiing and water skiing."
But if you'd like to see for yourself, the course is open to all ages and levels of skill.
"Come on down and we'll pair you up with a horse and rider," he said.
Last year, local boys Taylor Stoecklein and Hunter Story decided to try it out and, after winning the Wood River event, headed to the national finals.
"They did really well," Peterson said. "I think they ended up in second place overall."
To sign up for a chance to win $2,500 in prize money and maybe follow in Stoecklein and Story's footsteps, visit www.woodriveresja.com, call Peterson at 720-0329 or stop in at The Mule Shoe Tavern on Main Street in Hailey from 6-10 p.m. on Friday, March 2.
But if the thrill of the sport is more in the watching for you, then spectators are welcome at $5 per person. Proceeds from the event benefit the Sagebrush Equine Training Center for the Handicapped. The races will be held at 26 Townsend Gulch in Bellevue on Saturday, March 3, and Sunday, March 4, beginning at noon both days.