It’s that time of year again. Nope, not St. Patrick’s Day (though we will heartily encourage you to consume green beer all month, if you’d like); it’s the National Ski-Joring Finals.
What was that? You’ve never heard of Ski-Joring? Seriously?
OK, that’s to be expected. Because really, unless you’re a Mountain West native, an equine enthusiast or a pure-blood Scandinavian (or a combination of the three), you’re probably scratching your head wondering how to even say it.
Pronounced "skih-JOR-ing" (you’re welcome), this sport was not always intended for recreation. Formerly a popular mode of winter transportation used by Scandinavians several hundred years ago, Ski-Joring only made its way to North American during the mid-twentieth century. The Scandinavians that pioneered the activity strapped themselves onto Nordic skis, grabbed on to a rope attached to the saddle horn of their horse and it was off to Grandmother’s house they went.
However, by the time Ski-Joring made its way to the United States, traveling by horse and skis was no longer an efficient method of transportation. Yet, hitching your ski-bound self to a horse traveling at speeds upwards of 20 miles per hour seemed like fun to a great many individuals and thus, Ski-Joring as a recreational activity was born.
These days, a Ski-Joring competition is held to a slightly different set of rules. Strapped into their skis and pulled behind a horse (or, in some cases, a dog or snowmobile), riders are challenged to navigate a pre-set series of gates and jumps. Riders have two chances to complete the circuit and their scores are averaged.
The National Finals
The National Finals of Ski-Joring descend upon the town of Red Lodge, on March 7-9, 2014. Resembling a sort of winter rodeo, spectators can watch all the festivities at the Rodeo Grounds in Red Lodge, starting at 12pm on Saturday, March 8. The first course attempt is Saturday afternoon; the second is Sunday, at noon, as well.
And if spending a day outside watching skiers being tugged by horses wasn’t enough, after the traditional course competition, there’s also a "longest jump" category. In this event, riders are propelled—like a slingshot—over a snow jump. Distance traveled can be more than 60 feet.
So, why go?
So now that you know everything you’ve ever needed to know about Ski-Joring, you’re wondering why you should travel to go see people get pulled around, sleigh-style by a horse, right?
Not only because Ski-Joring is one of those obscure events that makes a Yellowstone Country trip a true, unique Montana experience (seriously … how many of your friends will have pictures of the last Ski-Joring competition they attended? That’s what we thought.), but because the energy that reverberates through a small town like Red Lodge when there is a national event occurring is like none other that I’ve seen. The whole town seems like they’re having one big party—which, by the way, they are—and a normally quiet place suddenly comes to life.
Simply put, there’s nothing like the energy, the buzz or the hospitality that will come out of Red Lodge during the three days of the National Finals. Live music, a town packed with visitors and some good old fashioned Ski-Joring is enough to make us pack up our skis, rope up our horse and head outta town.
For more information about the Red Lodge Ski-Joring National Finals, head to their website.