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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
Eight-year-old Brynlynn Spaulding wanted more than anything to go faster than her brother.
Snow spit into her face from the hooves of the horse pulling her, but skijoring spectators in Saratoga could nonetheless hear her all the way shouting into the wind, “Faster, go Faster!”
She didn’t beat her brother’s time.
Beckett Spaulding, who will be 11 in a week, finished his race Saturday in just over 24 seconds, putting him first for the day in the junior division.
On Sunday, he felt pretty good about his chances for a win, but “bit” the snow in his race on one of the later jumps. That left him with a DNF — did not finish — for the race and in the overall results.
Brynlynn, meanwhile, had finished her Sunday race without a problem. It was a slower pace than her brother’s — which she grumbled about later.
But because she finished, she earned third place in the junior division for the weekend. That came with a small check and, no doubt, some bragging rights in the Spaulding household.
But there is a larger, more subtle lesson. In Skijoring, as in life, the race doesn’t always go to the fastest. Sometimes it goes to those who respect their own limitations and make the most of them.
Bragging Rights And Memories
A few tailgates down, Jackson Kopasz also wanted to go fast, but he had a more specific goal in mind. He wanted to not only move up a division, but improve his overall performance.
Like Beckett, the 11-year-old wore a helmet outfitted with a GoPro video camera and a wide grin. Neither of the boys were sure what they were going to do with their videos.
“Probably edit it, put it out on social media,” Kopasz told Cowboy State Daily. “If it’s good.”
Unlike Beckett, Kopasz was wearing shorts Sunday for his race. No tights, just bare skin and knobby knees in the Wyoming winter wind.
“He’s tough,” his dad told Cowboy State Daily as he shook his head disapprovingly.
Moments later, he went to start up the truck and told his son to wait inside to warm up until race time.
Kopasz made it through his race without falling — barely. And he posted a good time.
He had achieved his goal of not only moving up a division in competition, he captured an overall place for the event, beating out many more experienced competitors.
But he didn’t beat his dad, who took home two belt buckles from the event.
Both had big smiles for the memories made during their Saratoga skijoring weekend.
What Is Skijoring
Skijoring is a growing winter sport in Wyoming and other states that get plenty of winter snow.
The idea is fairly simple, even if not necessarily easy. A rider on a horse pulls a skier behind through a series of snowy obstacles that include challenging manmade ramps, jumps and ring grabs.
The difficulty is by design.
“We usually try and set our track so there’s some horsemanship involved,” race organizer Richard Raymer told Cowboy State Daily. “So, you’re not just taking a race horse and riding straight down the track.”
Saratoga’s skijoring track included, in addition to some challenging ramps and a big jump that wrecked a couple of skiers — resulting in at least one broken leg — ski gates and rings that force a skier to think fast about lane changes and ring grabs.
Missing a ring or a ski gate means a penalty.
“You have to finish with the rings on your arm, in control of your skis, with the rope in your hand,” Raymer said. “Ultimately, it is a team sport, and it’s no time if you don’t finish holding the rope.”
Sunday’s race was slightly different from Saturday’s. That’s on purpose. The riders have to be just as much on their toes for the second race day as the first.
Skijoring Is About Family Fun
Family is a big part of what makes skijoring so popular. Not only are kids like Jackson Kopasz and Brynlynn and Beckett Spaulding learning life lessons, they’re spending time with parents and even grandparents.
Each family brings their own miniature encampment along. There are lots of comfy outdoor quad chairs, complete with built-in cup holders. Some families even had barbecue setups that did double duty as toe and finger warmers, along with cooking up snacks.
Those without outdoor heaters hauled out thick blankets to wrap around themselves, along with big smiles.
Coolers dotted the snowy landscape here and there, smashed down into snow, holding drinks of choice.
There were popular street-style foods for sale, ranging from Mexican dishes to croissant-wrapped hot dogs and melt-in-your-mouth macaroons.
Adult beverages were for sale as well, like mimosas and other cocktails, some of them piping hot.
Think Spring Break In The Snow
Visitors to Saratoga’s skijoring event will find a scene that reminds them a bit of spring break, but it’s in the snow. Instead of college pranks, there’s skijoring, with some of the best steak and pea moments — aka wrecks — around.
The best wreck gets an actual steak and some peas for their supposed bruises. This year, Beckett Spaulding was among the steak and pea winners.
It’s all good-natured ribbing, but there’s a serious point to it as well.
Safety is a big deal at skijoring events, Raymer said. And it’s stressed over and over not just by race organizers and volunteers, but by all the participants to all of their loved ones.
“Every aspect of this race is about safety,” Raymer said. “It’s about rider safety and spectator safety.”
That’s one reason drones or dogs are not allowed. Both have spooked horses at other races, leading to injuries.
“There’s a lot of variables with horses,” Raymer said. “Animals are living beings.”
Variety Is The Spice of Skijoring Life
The snow and weather, the skill of course builders and the terrain all come together in each host community’s skijoring experience.
“No two skijoring tracks are alike,” Raymer said. “Everybody kind of has their own signature facility.”
In Saratoga, a civil engineer designs the course based on available snow. Some years, that hasn’t been a lot.
“We were scooping up snow all over town last year,” Raymer told Cowboy State Daily.
The town’s snowplows pushed the available snow into piles for Raymer and his volunteers to take to Buck Springs Arena.
That year, the jumps weren’t as high as they were this year.
But there was still a mountain of fun to be had, Raymer said, and the event was a success.
Breathing Life Into Winter Tourism
Skijoring is about more than just immediate family, though. There’s an extended family with a shared purpose, Raymer said.
Many of them will go to all of the races they can find in the winter, whether it’s the oldest Wyoming skijoring race in Sundance, the new one in Sheridan or the one next weekend in Pinedale, which also features a fun winter carnival.
It’s fun, of course, but it’s really all about supporting each others’ communities through the long winter months.
“All of these events were designed over trying to help the community survive the hard months of winter, when there’s no really economic gain,” Raymer said. “That’s the main goal, and I can speak for these other races. That’s what their goal is, too. They found a way to create revenue for the town.”
The base of competitors are loyal not just to the communities, but to the businesses that sponsor the events, Raymer said.
“That’s how you keep your community going,” he said, adding that all proceeds from Saratoga’s skijoring event will go back into the community.
“Our profits go back to like kids scholarship programs,” he said. “We do kids fishing day weekend. So, we don’t really make money. If there’s profits, it immediately goes back into community events.”
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