Inside the world of ski jöring, Utah’s new favorite winter sport
KAMAS, Utah (ABC4) – What do you get when you combine rodeo and skiing? In a way, exactly what you might expect: a horse and rider pulling a skier through an obstacle course. It’s called ski joring, it’s quite a spectacle, and it just might be the next big winter sport in Utah.
Although the sport has Norse origins – it was originally a form of winter transportation among the indigenous Sami, who used reindeer instead of horses – ski joring came to Utah competitively relatively recently. , in 2017.
Utahn’s founding fathers, Brian Gardner and Joe Loveridge, were, quite simply, two cowboys and former ski patrollers looking for a fun new hobby.
“When we saw this sport and decided to go for it, we just took horses out to a snowy field and tied our skis and grabbed a rope and went for it,” Gardner recalled with a laugh. “It was about as simple as that and we were like, shoot, this is great fun.”
After getting a taste of it, the couple – who had heard of competitions in neighboring states like Montana and Wyoming – thought the sport might be welcome in Utah, too.
“Since he and I were both avid skiers and cowboys, we saw these other events and were like, ‘Oh my God, there must be one in Utah,'” remembers Gardner. “Utah has such a strong skiing heritage and such a strong western ranching heritage that we thought this was the perfect fit.”
The first year of ski jöring in Utah was essentially a gathering of friends of Gardner and Loveridge from the skiing and cowboy world. But since then, their “labor of love” has really gained momentum and turned into a real tourist attraction.
This year’s iteration of the annual two-day competition — which has sold out since Jan. 31 — will be held Feb. 4-5 in Kamas and will draw more than 3,000 spectators and just over 200 competitors, Gardner said.
“I think in addition to the competitors who really love it and appreciate it, I think the local community of Utahns as well as, shoot, we have people who travel from Florida, California and Texas who just come to watch the event,” Garner said.
Another Utahn who has developed a love for the crossover sport is Caitlin Cottam, who lives in Spanish Fork. She came across ski joëring while browsing Facebook and, as an already established rider, wanted to give it a try.
“I started practicing in my in-laws’ backyard and it just boomed from there,” she says.
This will be Cottam’s second year of competition and the first for his skiing partner, Blaire Albers.
Although the pair have only had the opportunity to train together once, Cottam says they are excited and feel prepared.
When she started skijoring three years ago, Cottam rode her horse by first pulling an empty sled.
“Most of our horses that I’ve used have worked on ranches, roped cattle and stuff, so they’re very used to having weight in the saddle and pulling it,” she says.
She is also confident in Albers’ abilities as a skier and compares how the skier feels to taking a tow rope up the ski mountain. And, they’ll be competing in the novice division, so it’s really just for fun, Cottam says.
Besides the novice division, the competition is divided into categories. The professional division is reserved for performance horses and elite athletes, and the sporting division falls somewhere in between. There is also a Women’s Only Division, a Centennial Division – in which the combined ages of female skier and rider must total at least 100, an All-Round Division – for female competitors who ski and cowboy, and a snowboard.
The sport itself is judged on how quickly and accurately the team can complete the course, which is typically 600 to 1,000 feet long and laid out in an L or U shape. Skiers must clear jumps – which range from three to six feet high – and collect rings as they race around the course.
Although in recent years he has found himself tied down with organizational duties, this year Gardner is also returning to the roots of the competition by making time to compete in the all-around division.
“It’s such a special and unique event that really builds on those two strong Utah legacies,” he said. “People got into it.”