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.
In the mid 1940's, skijoring found its way to North America. 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. 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 track roughly 900' in length. Skiers must navigate a course of jumps, gates and capture rings while being pulled by a 30' rope at speeds up to 60 mph as they accelerate around gates.
Competitive skijoring races are currently taking place in over 5 states in the USA as well as in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and the sport is practiced in various ways and across numerous countries worldwide: France, Poland, Latvia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Ukraine and Russia.
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.
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 Whitefish, Wisdom, Bozeman and 320 Ranch in Gallatin Gateway, Montana; Sandpoint, Bellevue and Driggs, Idaho; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Red River, New Mexico; and Silverton, Leadville and Minturn, Colorado. In Steamboat, Colorado, skijoring has been a recreational tradition at their winter carnival and may host a competitive race in the near future.