By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
Saddle up a horse with a trusted rider. Grab a pair of skis or a snowboard and strap them on a second person. Now hold onto that rope that’s – hopefully – tied tightly to the horse.
Welcome to skijoring. An adventure — or maybe even misadventure — awaits.
This type of horse-pulled skiing was once a common way of winter travel for Scandinavians to get quickly over hill and through dell.
Flash forward a few hundred years, and the hills and dells have been replaced with slalom gates and rings to grab, as well as snow jumps as high as 7 feet.
It’s epic to watch, even if you don’t participate, and Sheridan offers one of Wyoming’s largest events, even though it’s a relative newcomer to the skijoring scene.
A Hit From The Start
In 2019, 107 teams signed up for the fledgling event and 6,000 spectators turned out to watch the race in downtown Sheridan, according to a website about the event. Cash prizes totaling $11,000 were awarded.
The next year had even more participation, said Sheridan County Travel & Tourism Executive Director Shawn Parker, with nearly 150 teams and almost 10,000 spectators, which he said makes it among the largest in the state.
Sheridan’s skijoring event returns this year after a two-year hiatus caused first by the pandemic then a winter with too little snow.
Winter Rodeo Kicks It Off
Skijoring in Sheridan isn’t a standalone event, however. It’s part of a series of winter events set for that lull in February, when the holidays are well and truly over but spring hasn’t yet begun.
“We’ll have, like, antelope Butte Mountain Recreation area, the ski hill, they’re doing a special kickoff weekend where rentals and things will be half off, and we’ll have some live music and that sort of stuff,” Parker said.
“So, we kind of spread it around the community and try to do as much as possible with local partners, because February’s a really slow time of month across Wyoming, unless you’re in Jackson in the Village.”
Sheridan’s Winter Rodeo kicks off Feb. 4 with a moonlight ski at Sibley Lake, followed by a rodeo day Feb. 11 at Antelope Butte. It concludes Feb. 19 with Discovery Nordic Ski Day.
More details about Sheridan’s Winter Rodeo are online.
Expert Designs Sheridan Course
Another key factor in Sheridan’s popular skijoring event is what goes on behind the scenes to prepare for the day.
That includes an expert course designer, Hans Mercer, who also is the city’s Public Works director.
“Hans is a really creative guy, and he actually competes in skijoring in a lot of different places,” Parker said. “He just does a really great job building up the track.”
Getting the course just right means a thoughtful balance between challenging participants while at the same time ensuring safety, so amateurs and youth also can compete.
“You don’t want the massive jumps that only the best skiers and snowboarders in the state can handle,” Parker said. “You’ve got to find a delicate balance that allows everybody to have a good time and entertain the spectators, as well as keeping people safe.”
While Sheridan’s event has rapidly grown into one of the state’s largest skijoring races, other communities have more history with the sport and a lot to offer as well.
• Saratoga, nestled between the Snowy Range and Sierra Madre Mountains, will hold its highly anticipated fifth annual skijoring races Feb. 4 and 5 at the Buck Springs Arena. Prize money totals around $10,000, with three divisions of competition available, ranging from novice to expert.
• Pinedale’s skijoring event is set Feb. 11 and 12 at the Pinedale Rodeo Grounds. The races are part of an overall Winter Carnival, which includes the Cardboard Classic, a sledding event that challenges participants to build their own sleds from cardboard, duct tape, glue and paint. There also are snow sculptures. The event wraps up with the Snow Ball at WindRiver Brew Pub.
• Sundance Winter Festival, now in its seventh year, is held in the historic downtown of the city where the Sundance Kid got his name. The event is set to kick off Feb. 12.