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What is Skijoring? The O.G. Winter Sport of the Wild, Wild West

Skijoring might just be the weirdest winter sport you’ve never heard of. Imagine a cross between horse-back riding and water skiing—but with hoops, jumps and obstacles involved. And, yes, it’s just as dangerous as it sounds.

While skiers are traditionally pulled by horses for competition events, recreational skijoring participants sometimes hitch up to a dog or, more rarely, a car. Here’s how it works: The skier holds onto a tow rope attached to an animal, which then pulls them along a snowy trail or snow-covered road, often at break-neck speeds. Meanwhile, the skier will strategically position their skis and poles to navigate, keep their balance and surmount any of the ramps or jumps placed in their path.

The 74th annual ski joring competition in Leadville, Colorado. Image by Jason Connolly/AFP via Getty Images

The activity, which originated in Scandinavia hundreds of years ago, wasn’t originally conceived of as a competitive sport. Rather, it was used as a form of transportation. According to WRESJA, the Wood River Extreme Ski Joring Association, it used to be a way for people to travel throughout wintry landscape during the harshest months of the year. Instead of dogs or horses, reindeer towed passengers on wooden skis. The word “skijoring,” in fact, is derived from the Norwegian word “skikjøring,” which means “ski driving.”

The practice eventually hit the mainstream as a recreational activity in the 1940s, when two men named Mugs Ossman and Tom Schroeder traveled to Steamboat Springs, Colorado and saw it performed during a carnival. Intrigued by the demonstration, they decided to put their own spin on it. The rest, as they say, is history. 

These days, you can watch competitive skijoring events at a number of traditional mountain towns across the US. In addition to Steamboat Springs, Leadville, Colorado and Whitefish, Montana both have long-running skijoring events that draw huge crowds. Whitefish also hosts the annual World Ski Joring Championships, where competitors vie for a prize pool of more than $20,000. Yep—out West, skijoring is a really big deal.

Want to try it for yourself? If you’re looking for the thrill of skiing but without the cardio, consider finding a skijoring center near you. We recommend starting with a dog, then moving up to faster modes of travel from there. Oh, and please wear a helmet.

Image by Jason Connolly/AFP via Getty Images
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