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.
Started in 1949, Leadville Ski Joring combines horses and riders, with skiers in an action-packed competition that takes place on historic Harrison Avenue. Held the first weekend in March, 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 organizations like the North American Ski Joring Association, SkijorInternational and Skijor America. But it’s Leadville Ski Joring that stands out among the other competitions, mainly due to the course, both its build and its location. And because it’s the Granddaddy of them all!
The annual event went to four classes in 2018 – Open, Sport, Legends, and recently added Snowmobile Division. These winter athletes compete for the cheers from the crowds, the bragging rights that come from a good run/time, and of course, some hard cold cash! Teams are randomly matched: horse, rider and skier. The Open Division is for any and all skiers and you don’t have to have a horse, they will match you up during registration. The Sport division is what the BIG jumps are for. These are the real showmen and women to watch! The Legend Division was created for those older skiers who maybe weren’t willing to take on the big jumps, but still knew how to put on a show! Last year, organizers added the Snowmobile Division, offering newbies a chance to take on the course behind a snowmobile, before adding the more unpredictable horsepower. This gives skiers an opportunity to see how difficult it is to scoop up those rings and hit those gates. In other words, prove yourself. Then come back and do it behind a horse. For COMPLETE RULES, check the LeadvilleSkiJoring.us website.
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 around and helping to set-up the course on Friday, including students from the local Colorado Mountain College Ski Area Operations class.
One last thing: 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. 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 Wild West show they’re not likely to forget. Yee-Haw!
© Leadville Today