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Put on the Skis and Saddle up! Ski what? Ski Joring!

Mark Oliver's picture
Mark Oliver

We live in ski towns… but long before any town in this area ever saw a two planker, they were undoubtedly cowboy towns. Mining, sheep herding, farming and ranching ruled, and it wasn’t until the thirties nearly fifty years after Idaho became a state that the first skiers began running to the hills here.

(Above) Course builder, and local Chase Gouley holds onto his rings and makes his way to the finish in front of a crowd of hundreds.  It really was the horse and cowboy that built this area, hauling ore in and out over the mountain passes to smelters, driving sheep and cattle to the plains, and eventually helping build the rail road lines that hauled those herds south. Conversely in the end bringing herds of folks north looking to enjoy winter with skis strapped to their feet.
  (Above) Brittney Snyder and Michael Porter make their way to the start to compete in the Local Novice division. 
Since the introduction of skiing in the 30′s they have both coexisted here, and carried on relatively autonomous of one another, but every once and again you will glance out of your car and catch a cowboy walking by a skier… there may be a glance, a tipped hat, and a "whats up?" as the two pass by. The cultural juxtaposition will without a doubt catch you off guard and though it is somewhat uncommon, it does happen on occasion - and in many western ski towns this plays out quite regularly. This last weekend, however it was commonplace to see these two cultures together for more than just a glance and a nod, they were competing as a team. One weekend every year here, the Wood River Extreme Skijoring Competitions take place and cowboys as well as skiers team up to see who can put down the fastest time together. (Above) Rider Juan Duval carries the flag as the National Anthem is played.
 (Above) Tyler Peterson, Taylor Stoecklein and Julie Youngblood wait for their turn to race. 
What the hell is skijoring you ask? Well it is as old as horses (or dogs) and skis… well as long as both really have been in existence together. No one really knows where it started but it has been a long traditional form of transportation all across the world, namely Scandanavia – people have skied behind dogs, horses and snowmobiles, and its really just a fancy way of saying hookiebobbing (albeit not always at 40mph). Around the world however there are a number of different competitions ranging from endurance races, drag races, to gate and jump races - like ours.
(Above) Taylor Stoecklein pulls Hunter Story through the first few turns. 
When I rolled up to Old Cutters Ranch, I wasn’t sure what to expect, mainly because this was my first year ever witnessing this madness. I had wanted to go for some time… I mean where do you see a nine hundred pound 15 hand horse haul a skier at forty milles per hour? Right?  I walked about a hundred feet down a fence line passing faces I knew, who were there to take it all in, like I was. Soon I found a group of my friends – all beer in hand ready to cheer on our crew of skiers and horseback riders competing that day. Its funny growing up here, because your friends can be some of the best skiers you know in the winter, and some of the best horseback riders the rest of the time… ahem' Julie Youngblood, Taylor Stoecklein, Tara Bell  – just to name a few.
(Above) A rider reaches for the rider ring. 

(Above) Cody Smith cleans the first set of rings. 

 (Above) Julie Youngblood and Will Roth (2nd place in the Sport division) take the first jump with ease. 

Despite the two very different sports coming together, there is no animosity here, and despite colorful tutus contrasting dark and muted cowboy hats, there is just love between two extremely different sports. For these days both find common ground on a flat quarter mile groomed track (with jumps and gates of course). Julie Youngblood a recent transplant and mongolian derby 6th place finisher says, "It's my two favorite sports put together in one... It's a killer group of people who like like to drink and have a good time, and get a little crazy... and cowboys are nuts!".  
(Above) Chase Gouley Eyes up a ring.
I guess I should probably explain the rules of our Ski Joring just so we are all clear on what it is all about. The horseback rider must tow their skier or snowboarder teammate through a series of 10 gates, 2 jumps, and collect 6 rings that they must snatch from magnetized hangers (5 for the skier & 1 for the rider). If the rings are missed 2 seconds is added to their final time, and if a gate is missed 5 seconds is added. Needless to say missing anything will likely mean a loss… so you don’t want to do it. (Above) Talylor Stoecklein reaches for a falling ring.
Now this competition was no joke - I believe in the Open Division there was a purse of nearly $5,000 for the winning team. The teams were entered the night before the competition, with skiers and riders wanting to chose the fastest and best teammate. There was also a "calcutta" which is really just a nice way of saying throw down a little cash bet on your buds. On saturday night anyone could purchase what team they thought would win in each division, and if that team won then they took the pot for that division.
(Above) Cody Smith takes a gate like the pro he is.
Both days of the competition hundreds of people lined the quarter mile track, and watched as a few hundred drag races go down., and a number of locals participated.  In the end professional skijorrers Cody Smith (Spokane, WA) and rider Scott Ping (Whitefish Montana) took the top spot and took home the purse (Pictured above).
(Above) Julie and Jordan Youngblood enjoy some tasty beverages post race. Taylor Stoecklein and Biche Rudigoz photo bomb. Notice the knitted hand koozies. Sweet right?
All in all it was a great way to spend a weekend with friends. If you ever get the chance to make it to the Extreme Ski Jorring Competitions here, do it you will undoubtedly find friends to drink beers with and watch as two unlikely athletes come together to have a scary fun time. ~Mark For more photos, or if you were in the competition and would like a print please visit www.oliverphoto.zenfolio.com.

 

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