Bringing cultures together

Skijoring: A mix of skiers and horses

Carissa Dahl riding Rage, pulls Shawn Gerber at the first-ever skijoring event in Ridgway on Jan. 7.

A cowboy and skier compete at the San Juan Skijoring event on Jan. 7.

Jeff Dahl, atop Rocket, talks to his son, Greg, after the two finished their run at the San Juan Skijoring competition on Jan. 7 in Ridgway.

Jeff Dahl, riding Cash, pulls Jason Dahl during the San Juan Skijorning event on Jan. 7 in Ridgway.

Rich Weber Jr., riding lovely, pulls Tyler Smedsrud during the San Juan Skijoring event on Jan. 7 in Ridgway.

Rich Weber rides Serge and pulls Tyler Smedsrud over a jump during the San Juan Skijoring event on Jan. 7.

Cowboy Rich Weber, Jr. rides Lovely while pulling Tyler Smedsrud during the San Juan Skijoring event in Ridway on Jan. 7.

Kent Wollert of Montrose pulls a skier during the San Juan Skijoring competition in Ridgway on Jan. 7.

Rich Weber Jr. on Serge pulls Tyler Smedsrud over a jump at the San Juan Skijoring event Saturday in Ridgway at the Ouray County Fairgrounds. The Nationally sanctioned competition, the first in Ridgway, drew both the fastest horses and riders and skiers from several states. Weber won the open division by beating his dad, Richard, by .006 seconds.


What is Skijoring?

Skijoring is a sport using either a dog or a horse pulls a skier.

Equestrian skijoring consists of a team of a single horse and rider pulling the skier who carries no poles and simply hangs onto a tow rope in a manner akin to water skiing. Skijoring behind a horse is said to have originated as a method of winter travel. Skijoring was a demonstration sport in the 1928 Winter Olympics.

Race courses can be on a straight course or a 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. The horseshoe-shaped course (like in Ridgway) allows the horse to run on the inside of the track while the skier navigates slalom racing gates and jumps.

Colorado races

Silverton: Feb. 18-19

Leadville: March 4-5


Skijoring video & more photos at

RIDGWAY — The cheers soared like falling dominoes, as competitors galloped and slid around the corner of the race track.

“Go Turbo!” A woman screamed.

And go Turbo did, like the wind on a frigid afternoon. Then there was Rocket, a big paint horse, picking up speed as he hit the straight stretch, kicking up snow as he blasted toward the finish line.

And behind the horses, skiers were showered with cheers as well.

Those cheers reached a thundering crescendo at the final jump with the largest group of spectators roaring with excitement.

As Turbo, Rocket, Rage, Serge, Ruger, Vader, Black Beauty and others displayed their powerful strides, skiers, clung to a 50-foot rope with desperation and determination, hoping to be the fastest.

This is skijoring.

It was the first-ever skijoring event in Ridgway.

In this fascinating and unique winter sport, horse and rider pull a skier over jumps and through slalom gates.

“It’s rednecks mixed with ski bums,” said Orion Willits, proud of his description. “This is the first time I’ve ever been pulled by a horse, and I have to say, it’s pretty dang fun.”

The Ridgway native, who now lives in Bozeman, Montana, is a big mountain skier. That means he gets his adrenaline fix by jumping off cliffs and skiing down terrifyingly steep slopes.

But skijoring is quite a thrill too, he said with a big grin.

“Here you have 15-20 seconds to go as fast as you can. It’s way different than anything I’ve ever done before,” he said with an almost giddy tone.

There’s a mutual respect for these competitors with contrasting backgrounds.

“The whole thing, the horses, the skiers, coming together, it’s just a great mix,” said skier Robbie Contay. “You have to explain (the sport) to most people, then they give you a funny face, trying to picture it.

“It’s groups of people that don’t typically hang out together, so that’s cool,” the 57-year-old Durangoan said.

It’s a thrill for both skier and horse rider.

“I rode this course five times today and every time it got more thrilling,” said Durango’s Jeff Dahl as he trotted Rocket back to the start line. “There’s nothing like it, especially for a couple of older kids. We’re out here riding race horses, this is just too much fun. You can’t have more fun than this.

Dahl, 62, in his cowboy hat, sheep-skin vest, boots and spurs looks more western than a John Wayne movie.

His wife, Carissa, 60, is the other older kid he referred to, and she was atop Rage waiting to pull another skier.

Jeff Dahl loves riding and loves his horses.

“There’s nothing more majestic than a horse and we’re running flat out as fast as we can,” he said. “The horse is putting it all out there, they’re stretching it out.”

The excitement in his voice rises like the cheers that were showered upon him and Rocket a few minutes before.

He admits skijoring can be a risky, sometimes dangerous sport, and last year in Leadville, a horse was injured and had to be put down. But that was a rare incident in the sport.

On the Ridgway track, the half curve created a higher degree of difficulty and riders took extra care until they hit the straight stretch.

For the skiers, they pull themselves up the rope the closer they get to the finish, saving precious seconds that could be the difference between first, second or worst.

Of course, many times, the horse emerges from the corner and the rope is skipping behind minus the skier.

Not only do the skiers have to go over jumps, they also had slalom sections where they had to negotiate gates. Missing a gate would add a five-second penalty to the run.

“The skiers, man, they’re working their butts off,” Dahl said. “Those gates are coming fast, ‘BOOM, BOOM, BOOM,’ then comes the jumps. So, yeah, it’s a very unique sport.”

Aaron Griffen, 26, is a rare breed: a skier with a rodeo background. The Bozeman man was a team roper and steer wrestler in his rodeo days, then did some ski racing.

“It brings two different cultures together, which is phenomenal,” he said. “It’s a blast, a great group of people.”

Montrose businessman Kent Wollert came to Ridgway to ride, looking like the quintessential old-time cowboy, dressed sharp in his Western attire and bushy gray mustache. Even with his wrap-around shades, he was all cowboy.

“It’s my first time I’ve ever done this but it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It really showcases the horses that have some speed. On this round course, you have to kinda control that speed. It’s a pretty good adrenaline rush.”

Then he smiled: “But I’d hate to be that skier, I think I’ll stay on the horse.”

A mix of contrasting backgrounds and cultures. The skill of a rider, the power of a horse, the polish of a skier, a snow-covered race track and a cheering crowd.

This is skijoring.


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