WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #93
FIND WINTER BORING? TRY SKI JORING!
Do you find the Albertan winters long and uneventful? Does the
lack of planned activities, the lack of variety leave you
uninspired? Perhaps you need to try something new. Think of your
horse. Then, think of a pair of skis. Anything com
ing to mind? Personally, not a thing. But, for the more
adventurous and creative people out there, perhaps an idea is
forming: what if you tried skiing while being pulled by your
horse? Well, just like that, you'd be ski joring.
Scott Phillips and his friends from Wild Deuce Outfitting didn't
realize that ski joring was a sport when they first tried their
hand at it. "We're always trying to think of different things
that would be good exercise for our horses and fun for
us," he said. "It was just one of those things where you put
people around objects that move, and pretty soon they think of
putting them together."
Presumably, that's how it's happened throughout history, as the
practice of ski joring has been around since approximately 2500
BCE. The name of ski joring comes from the Norwegian word
"skikjoring" meaning ski driving, and the mod ern sport has been
adapted from what was a Scandinavian activity where peasants used
horses and skis for work and travel.
Ski joring isn't just limited to horses, as man's best friend can
also get in on the action. Canine ski joring requires skiers to
have regular cross-country ski equipment, including poles, and a
belt that's attached to the dog's harness. In the equine version,
the skier wears downhill skis or a snowboard and holds onto a
fine that's attached to either the horse's harness or saddle.
There are other adaptations that can be made, depending on the
type of ski joring, as some skiers will have reins and will
essentially ground drive their horses. Other skiers will hold
onto a towrope and a rider is responsible for controlling the
horse's speed and direction.
Phillips and crew use the second option, as they always have a
rider and skier involved. "We don't have any special equipment,
it's just a matter of getting creative," he said. "When we first
started, we just used a ranch rope and dallied it onto the saddle
horn, then grabbed some old stirrups and attached them onto the
end so that the skier would have something to hold onto."
Creativity with their skis was also a hallmark of their first
attempts, as they initially used an older set of skis, but the
matching boots didn't fit well into the bindings. "The ski boots
didn't fit, but we strapped them on and ended up just standing on
the skis - that didn't work so well," Phillips explained. "Then,
we found out that a pair of cowboy boots fit into the ski
bindings perfectly, so we did a lot better with those."
Ski joring can be a recreational activity filled with trial and
error and fun, or it can be a competitive sport, filled with
clearly defined events and rules, but still including the fun. It
was held as a demonstration sport at the Olympic Games in St.
Moritz, Switzerland, in 1928, and its venue - a frozen lake near
the city - was apparently a major attraction for spectators.
Known as ski joering in Europe, the sport still has competitions
in many countries, with the French Ski joering Championships held
annually in Les Arcs. This competition focuses on the ground
driving form of the sport, and competitors may take part in three
events: the giant slalom, the slalom, and the speed test. Not
surprisingly, speed is a major consideration, as horses and
skiers are judged on how quickly and precisely they can complete
the course. But, horsemanship is not overlooked, as this criteria
and the power of the horse are also assessed by the judges.
Closer to home, the North American Ski Joring Association was
created in 1999 and sanctioned competitions are now held in five
states throughout the U.S. There are no events slated for
Alberta, but Quebec will host two competitions in 2011. North
American events are somewhat different than European ones in that
riders are an integral part of the horse-skier teams. At North
American competitions skiers and snowboarders are often in the
air, flying through the air, with amazing height. Successfully
navigating and landing jumps is a major part of these
competitions; manoeuvering through gates and spearing rings may
also he included.
Ski joring, undoubtedly, can be a very diverse activity. So, what
kind of horse would you need? What breed works best for this
high-energy winter sport? Any breed, from Fjords to Quarter
Horses to mixed-breeds; the athletic ability and training of the
horse is far more important that its bloodlines. For Phillips,
doing recreational ski joring with his horses is good for their
minds and it helps to keep them in shape. "In the winter, we're
not in the mountains as much, so ski-joring is a great
alternative - closer to home, good for the horses and fun for
us," he said. "Most of our horses are used to ropes and pulling
logs, so when we started ski joring they already trusted the
situation and us. When we work with the green horses, though,
that's a bit more of an adventure."
When it comes to being the skier, Phillips finds every ride is an
adventure. "It's a ton of fun and you can get some pretty decent
speed going," he said. "We haven't had any injuries, but every
ride is a wreck from the skier's perspective - if you can get one
or two minutes of skiing, you're doing pretty good." Undoubtedly,
there are other recreational ski jorers like Phillips out there -
horse enthusiasts who like to get out with family and friends to
have fun on a beautiful winter day. But if you're like many of us
who have never seen the activity, a picture or video is truly the
best way to appreciate this sport. Visit the North American Ski
Joring Association website at www.nasja.com to see photos from
their competitions. You can also search "ski joering" to locate
videos from European ski joring competitions.
AlbertaBits - Winter 2010
To be continued from time to time