A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SPORT by Loren Zhimanskova
The first report of a person being pulled on skis (or wooden boards) by an animal or animals, dogs in this case, was recorded by a Persian historian thousands of years ago in the Altai Mountains of Central Asia, where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together.
For hundreds of years, Laplanders have been harnessing reindeer and strapping on Nordic skis as a way to travel across vast snowy expanses, and skijoring (spelled skijøring or skikjoring in Norwegian and meaning "ski driving") is now popular in all Scandinavian countries. By 1912, skijoring behind horses was a popular activity in Switzerland and France. It did not take long for this activity to cross the Atlantic. In the 1950's and 1960's, the Swiss and Austrians took to skijoring behind automobiles and motorcycles.
In the early 1900's, equine skijoring found its way to North America. In 1915, it appeared as a recreational activity in Lake Placid, New York and was a regular pastime at the Dartmouth Winter Carnival in Hanover, New Hampshire. When World War II ended, men from the 10th Mountain Division, our "Soldiers on Skis", returned home. There were no ski resorts or lifts back then, so they had their cowboy friends attach a long rope to their saddle horn, and then they held on as the horse was ridden at high speeds down a long straight-away usually an open field of a snow covered roadway. Mountain towns like Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Steamboat Springs, Colorado took up the sport often running in pairs down main streets. Thus, American races were born.
Today, equine skijoring is a highly specialized competitive sport, where horses accelerate to over 40 mph in just three strides covering a straight track roughly 900' in length. Skiers must navigate a series of jumps and gates and capture rings while being pulled by a 30' rope at speeds up to 60 mph as they accelerate. Curved tracks are also used in northern states such as Montana.
Competitive skijoring races are currently taking place in over 8 states in the USA as well as in St. Moritz, Switzerland and Alberta, Canada, The sport is practiced in various ways and across numerous countries worldwide: France, Poland, Latvia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Ukraine and Russia. In the United Kingdom, athletes are skijoring on turf or in arenas. In some coastal regions, skijoring occurs on beaches.
Skijoring is believed to have made its official debut in Stockholm at the Winter Games of 1901. In 1928, skijoring was featured as an exhibition sport at the Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland. In 1976, Denver, Colorado listed skijoring as an exhibition sport in their bid for the Winter Olympics. Denver won the bid, but ultimately turned it down, and skijoring was destined to remain in the shadows. Skijor International, LLC and Skijor USA, a non-profit organization, are working to bring skijoring back to the 2026 Olympics in some capacity.
Today, in Europe, equine skijoring gets the most exposure during White Turf in St. Moritz, Switzerland. White Turf, an event which features horse racing on snow as well as chariot racing and skijoring, began in 1907 and draws over 35,000 spectators a day.
In the United States, Leadville, Colorado has been hosting a competition down its main street since 1949. Other popular venues include Helena, Butte, Wisdom, Bozeman, Red Lodge, Whitefish and Big Sky, Montana; Hailey and Driggs, Idaho; Jackson Hole, Saratoga and Cokeville, Wyoming; and Silverton, Leadville, Gunnison and Steamboat, Colorado. In Steamboat Springs, skijoring has been a recreational tradition at their winter carnival since 1913 and will host a competitive race in 2019. Minnesota, Oregon, South Dakota and Wisconsin are also hosting races now.