Ski joring hooks
horses and skiers
Ancient sport pulls crowds,
skiers in Hailey
By MICHAEL AMES
Express Staff Writer
"Letís give a big round of applause for
all of our human and equine athletes!"
Thatís what they said when scores of fans
cheered competitors of all shapes and sizes at the Hailey BMX track last weekend
for the National Ski Joring Championships.
"Hailey always puts on the best race of
the year," said Smokey Mt. Ski Joring Association Director and competitive jorer
himself, Kurtis Stutz of Fairfield.
Stutz took first place in the recreational
Sport Division. He skied behind a horse named Ketchika, which was ridden by
Stutzís friend and associate Jeff Schroeder.
Itís definitely a crossover team sport.
Ever since becoming officially sanctioned
at Jackson, Wyo. in 1999, ski joring has been a steadily growing sport with
burgeoning interest in both the equestrian and skiing worlds.
Ski joring has ancient roots. Joring was
originally a form of locomotion for Nordic skiers using reindeer to pull them
across the vast snowy tundra of Scandinavia.
The sport has evolved and expanded its
scope since those beginnings. And it operates within flexible parameters.
"Last year we had some guys come with a
camel," said Stutz. "If they can pull a skier behind and itís not motorized then
youíre welcome to compete."
Though the Haley race was lacking any
dromedarian athletes this year, fans did get to see the best the sport has to
Upon pulling into the parking lot off Croy
Creek Road west of Hailey, one had the feeling this was a different sort of
As winds howled and snow drifted on Sunday
afternoon, excitement coursed through the participants, human and otherwise.
Horses whinnied and reared up as steam
poured from their flared nostrils. Meanwhile, top-level ski racers skated around
piles of hay and manure as they prepared for their next run.
"After my first race I was hooked," said
rider and two-year reigning NASJA champion Dana Stiles of Eagle, Colo. during
the Hailey event.
Though she has never skied herself, Stiles
loves the combination of the two classically western past-times.
She said, "Youíve got skiers who donít
know a thing about horses and riders who have never skiedóand the combination is
where the magic is."
Though some races are held on an oval
track, the events of this past weekend were a little different.
Horses took a straight run as skiers
navigated a series of gates and jumps while also trying to snag hanging rings
with an open arm at exceedingly high speeds.
"The tips of my fingers are all bruised
from trying to get that high ring," Stiles said.
She showed off purplish digits, the result
of trying to spear cold, hard ring at speeds of over 40 mph. This extra jockey
ring added a challenge for the already preoccupied riders.
"I think itís a pretty even balance,
though," Stiles said when questioned on the distribution of work between the
inter-species team of three.
Stiles won the top Open Division on a
horse named Merlin drawing skier Cody Smith.
Each day ended with the long jump
competition where the skier is pulled by a horse that is pushed as fast as it
Tricks were tossed in for the crowdís
pleasure, but distance was the sole criteria for winning this event. Stiles came
out on top of this competition when she pulled her skier, Bruce Stott. He sailed
66 feet off the ramp.
Later, human competitors gathered at
Haileyís Red Elephant for drinks, tall tales of joring highjinks and an awards
The horses waited patiently outside.
Among locals who placed in the big race
were Ed Uhrig, who rode Chucky and pulled skier Skip Merrick to a second-place
finish in the Sport Division, and Kelly Cole, who rode Otis and pulled skier
Shannon Webb to a third-place finish in the Womenís Division.
The sport may seem fringe to the
uninformed, but ask any of these competitors and youíll find athletes who are,
in their own words, "right on the cusp of going BIG."