Rodeo may be Wyoming’s official sport, but skijoring is the state’s unofficial winter sport. It is a uniquely Western athletic and cultural phenomenon.
The sport combines two of Wyoming’s favorite pastimes: skiing and horseback riding.
There are two participants. One rides the horse as quickly as possible. The other straps on skis and holds on to to a modified water ski rope for dear life as the horse pulls them. In more exciting, contemporary versions of the sport, skiers and riders must navigate through slalom gates and over jumps as big as 7 feet high. That’s what you’ll see in skijoring competitions across the state.
Historians think the origins of the sport come from the Sami, indigenous people from Norway. The name derives from a Norwegian word that literally means “ski driving.” The Sami skied behind reindeer as a method of transportation on Nordic skis.
Skijoring gained popularity as a form of recreation and eventually made it into the Nordic games in the early 1900s, where its popularity spread throughout Europe.
It made its way to the American West after World War II when soldiers brought it home after seeing it practiced in Europe. It’s now practiced by cowboys, skiers and adrenaline junkies alike.
There are other versions of the sport. Some riders tour behind dogs on cross-country skis. Others even tour behind cars or snowmobiles. But if you visit Wyoming, you’re most likely to see cowboys and cowgirls skiing behind horses. There are several opportunities to see skijoring for yourself, and maybe even give it a try.
The Sheridan Winter Rodeo introduced skijoring two years ago and it has been a huge hit since. Competitors can register in one of five categories: Open, Sport, Novice, Youth and Snowboard.
The Sundance Winter Festival also offers visitors a chance to see competitive skijoring in action or register to try it for themselves. The skijoring events take place along Sundance’s Main Street, making it easy to get a glimpse of this wild sport while strolling downtown.
Visitors to Pinedale are encouraged to actually experience a form of skijoing themselves. At the Winter Carnival in February, visitors can watch competitors race for a prize. Then, if they’re feeling inspired, they can harness their dog up and take them for a ski through the vast wilderness that surrounds Pinedale. For an adapted and lower-intensity experience, try dog sledding with one of the guide companies in the area.
Saratoga’s competitive skijoring races have $10,000 in prizes on the line, so you’d better believe these racers are among the best. In addition to top-level competitors, this event allows kids to join in on the action both on horseback and on skis at an adorably slower speed.
Visitors to Jackson Hole give skijoring a try through one of the valley’s many sled dog guides. But the authentic skijoring experience happens every winter courtesy of the Jackson Hole Shrine Club. Jackson’s event relies on the elements, so location and dates vary.
The Coney Classic Alpine Skijor is for the dogs. Its spirit is more playful than competitive — dogs can pull their skiers or simply run alongside them. Some racers enter with no dog at all. Costumes are encouraged and even rewarded. Anyone can enter, and the proceeds benefit the Alpine Cross Country Ski Association and Lucky’s Place Animal Shelter in neighboring Thayne.