Leadville Ski Joring: Giddy-Up to Leadville March 7 & 8
By Kathy Bedell, © 2015 Leadville Today
Colorado is known around the world for its outdoor winter recreation: skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice skating, hockey, ice fishing. But when it comes to the boisterous sport of Ski Joring, Leadville sits tall in the saddle at 10,200 feet with a race course that is surrounded by some of the state’s most notable historic buildings, not to mention Colorado’s two highest peaks.
This year marks the 66th Anniversary of Leadville Ski Joring, an event that combines horses and riders with skiers in an action-packed competition that takes place on historic Harrison Avenue. Held the first weekend in March, the celebration will take place Saturday & Sunday, March 7 & 8, 2015.
For those who have never witnessed this sport in person, there’ s nothing quite like seeing skiers hurtle 8 foot jumps and spear rings as they’re towed behind speeding horses with adrenaline-fueled riders at the reins.
The sport of Ski Joring continues to grow across the country with encouragement from the North American Ski Joring Association. But it’s Leadville Ski Joring that stands out among the other competitions, mainly due to the course, both its build and its location.
Separated into three classes – Open, Sport and Legends – these winter athletes compete for the cheers from the crowds, the bragging rights that come from a good run or victory, and of course, the hard cold cash! Teams are randomly matched: horse, rider and skier.
Once the teams are selected, the bidding begins through a Calcutta which takes place at the Announcer’s Stand on Harrison Avenue. This is where the money for daily purses and seed funds for next year’s competition is generated. That combined with a bit of smack talk from long-time competitors and local folks knowing which team combinations have the best chance for victory. Once the Calcutta is finished, the Leadville Ski Joring spectacular begins entertaining the hordes of spectators on historic Harrison Avenue
But to say that a world-class Ski Joring course just “happens” on Leadville’s main drag might be a bit of an understatement. It takes about 200 loads of snow and about five and a half hours to cover Harrison Avenue from 8th Street to 3rd Street.
Yep, that’s right after months of plowing the snow off the highway – Harrison Avenue is also Highway 24 and regularly plowed by the Colorado Department of Transportation – the local street department dumps the snow back ONTO Harrison Avenue. But it’s this unique setting that makes the course not only fun for the crowds but also for the competitors.
There’s usually a whole herd of volunteers out there pushing the snow and helping to set-up the course on Friday, but it’s the one and only Jody Manly who designs the course. He’s the guy who maps it out, who says how high, who says how far.
According to Manly, it’s important, from a safety perspective that the jumps be properly shaped: if they’re not, skiers have a greater risk of injury. They have to have be smooth, sloped to the right side, and have the right length-to-height ratio.
But before the jumps can be built, Jody Manly has to stake out the course. It’s here that the horses’ safety is taken into account. In fact, if you’ve ever seen Jody, a third generation Leadville guy, walk out the course with those special measurements of stride and handmade depth-measuring tools you’d know that at this point, he’s calculating safety with the horse – not the skier or rider – in mind.
Leadville Ski Joring fans won’t see any changes when it comes to the BIG competition, but there are some notable changes for the kids’ participation. Leadville Ski Joring organizers have decided to run the Kids Event a bit different this year, somewhat of a throwback to the way it used to be. Any child who wishes to do ONE Fun Run down the course, may line up at the START at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday (only), March 7. While there will not be a formal competition, kids will be timed. This year’s Kids Event will be FREE, and each child will receive a ribbon and 50-cent piece for taking on the challenge!
One last thing: This year, Leadville Ski Joring organizers are committed to streamlining the schedule and keeping the crowds better informed of what’s happening on the course and around town. You can also stay connected through the Leadville Ski Joring Facebook Page.
Here’s a schedule of events, but keep in mind this is Leadville and things don’t always go according to plan. So be patient, do a little shopping, grab a bite to eat, take a load off and have a cold (or hot) drink. After all, the whole reason this event is put on is to bring folks up to Leadville and put on a show they’re not likely to forget. Yee-Haw!