Skiers add horsepower to their ride
SILVERTON — A horse starts to gallop, a slackened rope tightens, and a skier bursts from a standstill onto a city-street course, gliding within mere feet of the horse’s churning hind legs.
“There’s nothing better. You go from zero to 40 in about a half-second,” Durango skier Calvin Hinkley said.
Hinkley wasn’t alone in feeling that rush, striking the delicate balance between skier and horse at speeds approaching 40 mph during the skijoring races at the 2011 Wild West Snowscape in Silverton over the weekend. Hundreds of people lined Blair Street on Saturday and Sunday to watch 15 men and three women navigate a snowy racecourse to continue the tradition of a centuries-old sport.
Skijoring, the Americanized form of the Norwegian word meaning ski driving, originally was developed as a mode of transportation between great distances for people living in cold climates. It is described as anyone being pulled by a horse, dog or motorized vehicle.
Teams in Silverton consisted of one person wearing skis, the other wearing spurs, in a timed race of horsepower for prize money and bragging rights.
“We go all out, all or nothing ... straight down the street,” Durango resident Nick Howard said of riding his horse through the course.
Hinkley said the hardest thing about the competition is holding onto the rope. Plus, the wear on the body during the competition can be felt for days.
“Last year I could barely lift my arms for a week,” Hinkley added.
The race is two and a half city blocks in length. Crowds gather on both sides to watch, reminded often of the simple, informal safety message: “Watch out you don’t get killed.”
Reindeer and dogs originally were used to pull a person through the snow. Only after skijoring was brought to the American West, by way of Scandinavia, were horses used.
“It can be really hard. The horse kicks up snow in your face while you’re riding. You need to be a really smart rider to do this,” said Dale Womack, an experienced skier from Durango. “(It’s for) someone who likes to have fun with a bunch of rowdy cowboys and fast horses ... most of these are racehorses.”
Henry Adams of Denver studied the competition intently for hours Saturday, preparing for his first attempt at skijoring competition.
“I’m expecting the ride of my life,” Adams said.
Colorado is no stranger to skijoring events, which are hosted annually in Leadville, Steamboat Springs, Aspen and Durango. Saturday’s races were just the second time organized skijoring was held on Silverton’s streets.
In 1999 skijoring was organized and sanctioned by the North American Ski Joring Association, founded in Jackson, Wyo., some 50 years after the first events were held in Leadville and Steamboat Springs.