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, sometimes called “cowboy skiing” by fans nationwide.

But what is skijoring? Where can you watch this unique sport (or even participate in it yourself)? When the snow flies, you’ll love this refreshing open-air activity. This guide breaks down skijoring and where you can find it in Wyoming.

What Is Skijoring?

Simply put, skijoring is a sport that combines skiing and horseback riding. There are two participants: one rides the horse as quickly as possible, while the other straps on skis and holds on 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.

Pro tip: If you’re curious about skijoring’s pronunciation, it is ski-jah-ring, with the emphasis on “ski” and the i spoken like in the word “skit.”

The History of Skijoring

Historians think the new ins 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 “horse skiing.” There are several opportunities to see skijoring for yourself and maybe even give it a try.

Horse Skijoring versus Dog Skijoring

Merriam-Webster defines skijoring as a winter sport in which a person wearing skis is drawn over snow or ice (as by a horse or vehicle). Common animals used in this sport are horses and dogs. In equestrian skijoring (sometimes called horse skiing), the competitor wears skis and holds tug lines attached to the horse’s harness. In contrast, canine skijoring requires cross-country skis and poles, with the person wearing a belt attached to a dog harness.

Horse Skijoring

During the long, cold winters, horses and people get restless. Thanks to the Scandinavians, there’s a sport that provides ample opportunity for both to get exercise from an exhilarating sport—skijoring. Skiers brave enough to give this a go are pulled by a horse that is either ridden by a second person or controlled by the skier.

Dog Skijoring

With its origins in dog mushing, dog skijoring ditches the sled and harnesses the animal to a skier wearing cross-country skis. Dogs of all shapes and sizes who are physically fit for the challenge can pull a skier, and the most popular breeds include Huskies, Samoyeds or Alaskan Malamute.

Family dogs can get into the fun, too, with breeds suitable for skijoring, including border collies, labradors, malinois, German shepherds, Rhodesian ridgebacks, cocker spaniels, vizslas and golden retrievers.

Top 6 Wyoming Skijoring Destinations

By now, you have answered two pivotal questions: what is skijoring, and what is the difference between horse and dog skijoring? Ready to get in on the pulse-pounding action? Here are the top six places in Wyoming where you can go to check out this sport.

1. Sheridan 

The Sheridan Winter Rodeo introduced skijoring two years ago, and it has been an enormous hit since. Competitors can register in one of five categories: Open, Sport, Novice, Youth, and Snowboard. 

Epic Winter Action in the Heart of Sheridan

The annual Sheridan Winter Rodeo takes place in February at the Sheridan County Fairgrounds. Locals and visitors pack the place by the thousands to watch the athletes and their horses traverse the course for cash, buckles, and other prizes.

2. Sundance

Skijoring in Sundance, Wyoming
Photo Credit: Jim Wollenburg

The Sundance Winter Festival also allows visitors to see competitive skijoring live 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.

Jump into Cold-Weather Excitement in Sundance

The annual Sundance Winter Festival is held in February. Skijoring divisions include snowboard (ages 18+ snowboarders only), powder puff (female riders and female snowboarders or skiers only ages 18+), young guns (people 34 or under), classic (total team age of 80+) and open (ages 18+ decided on competitors’ first run).

Competitors will race an approximately 700-foot track on Main Street with jumps, rings, and ski gates designed with horse and rider safety in mind. Winners will be awarded cash prizes.

3. Pinedale

Skijoring in Pinedale Wyoming
Photo Credit: @befearlis

Visitors to Pinedale are encouraged to actually experience a form of skijoring for themselves. Visitors can watch competitors race for a prize at the Winter Carnival in February. Then, if they’re feeling inspired, they can harness their dog up and take them for a ski through the vast wilderness surrounding Pinedale. For an adapted and lower-intensity experience, try dog sledding with one of the guide companies in the area.

Skijoring at Pinedale’s Winter Carnival

The event is scheduled for February at the Pinedale Rodeo Grounds starting at 9 a.m. during the Winter Carnival and promises to deliver many teams competing both Saturday and Sunday. The Open Pro teams consisting of horse, rider, and skier do not include novice and youth riders.

The Sport division is for less experienced competitors but still requires a great deal of know-how and experience. The Novice division is for beginner teams new to the sport and beginning-level competitors riding horses that may not have enough speed to compete in other divisions. The final division is Youth, a non-competitive fun run where one team member must be between 8 and 12 years old.

Fees to participate are as follows:

  • Open Pro Class – $150/Weekend
  • Sport – $100/Weekend
  • Novice – $100/Weekend
  • Juniors – 8-12 – $40/Weekend
  • Spectator – $5 per person for 12 and up (under 12 are free)

Pro tip: All of the Winter Carnival skijoring dates and information are subject to change, so be sure to check in before checking it out.

Main Street Pinedale, a non-profit organization, puts on the event, and funds raised from the Winter Carnival are added to the Facade Grant program, operating the Farmer’s Market and the yearly community clean-up.

4. Saratoga 

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.

Get In On The Fun at Saratoga Skijoring Races

The annual Saratoga Skijoring Races are scheduled for February at the Buck Springs Arena. Competitors will saddle up and ski hard in the open and sports divisions, amateur/novice and youth divisions. Competitors will race a 700-foot straight track that typically includes three jumps, a Leadville-style ring, and multiple ski gates designed with safety in mind. 

Fees to participate are as follows:

  • Open – 3D – $25 per person, $50 per team
  • Novice/Exhibition – $20 per person, $40 per team
  • Youth –  18 and under are free
  • General admission is $5 per person (kids 12 and under are free)

5. Jackson Hole 

Skijoring in Jackson Hole Wyoming
Photo Credit: @dbpeck3

For visitors, trying out skijoring in Jackson Hole is easy and accessible 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. Their event relies on the elements, so location and dates may vary.

6. Alpine

Skijoring in Alpine Wyoming
Skier Stacey Meyer pulled by her dog Ramsey. Photo Credit: Lila Wheatley

The Coney Classic Alpine Skijor has gone to the dogs. Its spirit is more playful than competitive — dogs can pull their skiers or run alongside them. Some racers enter with no dog at all. Costumes are encouraged and even rewarded. Anyone can join, and the proceeds benefit the Alpine Cross Country Ski Association and Lucky’s Place Animal Shelter in neighboring Thayne. 

Find more cold weather adventures in Wyoming here.

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