Snow A Welcome Sight For This Beloved Winter Sport

In Leadville, Colorado, the landscape resembled a strange cross between the Wild West and a Nordic winter wonderland.

<p><strong>A horse and rider pull a skier at a fast pace through a course that includes gates, jumps, and rings during a Skijoring event Feb. 22, 2020, at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah. Skijoring is a winter sport in which a person on skis is pulled by a horse, a dog or a motor vehicle. RICK BOWMER/AP PHOTO</strong></p>

The scenery around Leadville, Colorado, was an unlikely fusion of the Wild West and a Nordic winter wonderland over the past weekend as, one by one, riders on horseback barrelled down the road, skiers in tow.

Competitors tested their mettle in the 75th annual Leadville Skijoring competition, navigating a snowy obstacle course set up along the former silver mining town’s historic Harrison Avenue.

The sport, which translates to “ski driving,” involves a skier navigating a course while being pulled by a motor vehicle or an animal like a horse or dog. In Leadville, some 77 miles southwest of Denver, riders saddle up to guide their skiers through an obstacle course of jumps and gates while trying to collect rings.

Riders stroll their horses down the race course prior to competing in the 75th annual Leadville Ski Joring weekend competition in Leadville, Colorado on March 4, 2023. JASON CONNOLLY/GETTY IMAGES

The competition included 76 runs down Harrison Avenue on Saturday and 78 on Sunday, with some participants running more than once with a different horse, rider or skier.

Leadville’s one of the greatest races. There’s nothing like it,” Jed Moore, a rider and skier at the competition in Leadville, told AFP. “The crowd, the historic buildings, running right down [the] main street. I love coming here. I’ll be back every year.”

While the aesthetic surrounding the competition was reminiscent of the Wild West, the concept dates back several centuries to northern Europe as a way to travel across the snowy terrain. In the region of Sámpi, which covers northern portions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia, the indigenous Sámi people harnessed reindeer to pull themselves on skis.

Rider Amber West and skier Shawn Gerber race down Harrison Avenue during the 70th annual Leadville Ski Joring weekend competition on March 4, 2018 in Leadville, Colorado. JASON CONNOLLY/GETTY IMAGES

The practice then spread throughout Europe and was presented as a competition in the 1901, 1905 and 1909 Nordic Games, an international multi-sport event that ran from 1901 to 1926. Skiing behind a horse would come into practice a few years later, notably in France and Switzerland.

Equine skijoring appeared in the U.S. around 1915 when races were held at winter carnivals in Hanover, New Hampshire, and Steamboat Springs, Colorado. In 1949, Tom Schroeder and “Mugs” Ossman introduced the sport to Leadville where annual races have been held ever since.

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