Ski Joring: Leadville’s Downtown Winter Celebration
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
Leadville’s Downtown Winter Celebration will be back for some action-packed competition on March 4 & 5, but with a few changes. So listen up all you cowboys and fans of the one, the only Leadville Ski Joring!
Since 1949, Leadville Ski Joring’s (LSJ) main purpose was to bring folks up to America’s Highest City during the winter months when things were a little slower for the businesses that line historic Harrison Avenue. While the competition of this unique winter sport, which combines skiing with horsemanship, is keen, it’s always been the intention to push people into storefronts, restaurants and bars to help those cash registers ring. For many local entrepreneurs, LSJ customers help bring the dollars to their bottom line, helping them make it through to the busier summer months.
Nearly 70 years later that hasn’t changed. It’s one of the reasons you won’t see “sponsor” booths (other than the Leadville Lions Beer Tent, which raises money for dozens of local programs and events) on the avenue. The whole idea is to get people to come downtown and spend money in Leadville businesses. So it’s always a bit curious when people say: Why is it taking so long? Or can’t this go on a bit quicker? Perhaps it’s just the rush of today’s world, but historically, Ski Joring was a time for Leadvillites to break free of the winter doldrums and get out to see neighbors and friends who have been holed-up under feet of snow since the holidays. So keep that in mind as you make your plans to come up to Leadville on March 4 & 5 to attend the Granddaddy of them all: Leadville Ski Joring!
This year marks the 68th Anniversary of Leadville Ski Joring, an event that combines horses and riders with skiers in an action-packed competition that takes place on historic Harrison Avenue. Held annually the first weekend in March, the celebration will take place this year on Saturday & Sunday, March 4 & 5, 2017.
For those who have never witnessed this sport in person, there’ s nothing quite like seeing skiers hurdle 8-foot jumps, spearing rings as they’re towed behind speeding horses with adrenaline-fueled riders at the reins.
The sport of Ski Joring continues to grow across the country with emerging national and international associations. But it’s Leadville Ski Joring that stands out among the other competitions, mainly due to the course, both its build and its location.
Separated into three classes – Open, Sport and Legends – these winter athletes compete for the cheers from the crowds, the bragging rights that come from a good run or victory, and of course, the hard cold cash! Teams are randomly matched: horse, rider and skier.
Once the teams are selected, the bidding begins through a Calcutta which takes place at the announcer’s stand on Harrison Avenue. This is where the money for daily purses and seed funds for next year’s competition is generated. That combined with a bit of smack talk from long-time competitors and local folks knowing which team combinations have the best chance for victory. Once the Calcutta is finished, the Leadville Ski Joring spectacular begins entertaining the hordes of spectators on historic Harrison Avenue
But to say that a world-class Ski Joring course just “happens” on Leadville’s main drag might be a bit of an understatement. It takes about 200 loads of snow and about five and a half hours to cover Harrison Avenue from 8th to 3rd Streets.
Yep, that’s right after months of plowing the snow off the highway – Harrison Avenue is also Highway 24 and regularly plowed by the Colorado Department of Transportation – the local street department dumps the snow back ONTO Harrison Avenue. But it’s this unique setting that makes the course not only fun for the crowds but also for the competitors.
There’s usually a whole herd of volunteers out there pushing the snow and helping to set-up the course on Friday, but this year Leadville’s main drag may need a bit of a wink and a smile as course builders will be one man down this year. And it’s not just any man, it’s THE man. Leadville Ski Joring course builder since 1949 Jody Manly passed away earlier this month. He was the guy who mapped it out, who said how high, who said how far.
“There have been a few years when I came up on the avenue and thought, geesh Jody,” said LSJ organizer Jason Dahl, referring to the height of the jumps that Manly was not afraid to build, pushing the limit of every skiers’ courage. But Manly also knew how to build the jumps safely, shaping them for the safety of the skier: “smooth, sloped to the right side, and just the right length-to-height ratio,” said Manly in a Leadville Today interview in 2014.
But as any good cowboy or old miner knows, you’re not going to be around forever, so passing on your knowledge is just part of the Code of The West. And that’s what Manly had been doing these past few years, working closely with long-time LSJ colleagues, as well as the local college’s Ski Area Operations Instructor Jason Gusaas and his students who help build the world-class course. LSJ organizers are planning a Memorial tribute to Jody Manly on Saturday, March 4 during the Opening Ceremonies at noon on the avenue. Hope to see everyone there to honor this LSJ Legend! You’ll be deeply missed, Mr. Manly!
So yes, there are a few changes for this year’s event, but most won’t be noticed by the ski joring fans and spectators. Of course, the LSJ players are always changing and shifting, a few of the old guys finally signed off this year, and some new, but familiar faces have signed up to help with Leadville’s Downtown Winter Celebration. Longtime LSJ competitor and volunteer Jason Dahl will be lead man this year, so if you need to contact him call (970) 485-2419. Dahl will be assisted this year by fellow competitor Duffy Counsel who will be heading up the sponsor program. So if you benefit from this event, and want to contribute to the cause, or have one of your business banners on the avenue during the event, get in touch with Duffy at (970) 471-5535.
New this year will be online registration. It was time to take the leap into streamlining the registration process, so longtime LSJ organizer Paul Copper choose Race Entry to do the job. It’s pretty straightforward, but just in case there are any last minute competitors who want to be part of this Wild West Show, they can still sign-up on Friday and Saturday night from 6 – 8 p.m. at The Elks Lodge. BUT NOTE WELL, there WILL NOT be registration during the mornings like it has been for years. The intent here is for the action to get started a bit earlier in the day.
The decision to streamline the registration process leads to the schedule change. In 2017, the BIG competition will play out first on the course.
“This year, we’re getting things started a bit earlier,” said Dahl in a LT interview. “We want the teams to have the best course conditions possible, so the first horse down the avenue will be at High Noon.” Of course, that means for all the LSJ betting people, the Calcutta will begin at 9:30 a.m. Who knows, maybe the bidding will actually be higher as folks wipe the sleep out of their eyes. But regardless, if you’re looking to buy a team and take your chances, the payoff could be BIG! The betting starts at 9:30 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday at the announcer’s stand on historic Harrison Avenue.
Also, in order to keep the course in the best shape for the horses, Leadville Ski Joring organizers have decided to run the Kids Event AFTER the main competition on Saturday (ONLY). Of course, they will drag the course to smooth out any big bumps beforehand. It’s anticipated the kid’s chance to take a run down the avenue behind a snowmobile will be ready at 3 p.m. Any child who wishes to do ONE Fun Run down the course, may line up at the START at on Saturday (only), March 4. While there will not be a formal competition, kids will be timed. The kid’s event will be FREE, and each child will receive a ribbon and 50 cent piece for taking on the challenge!
So it looks like this annual event that always seems to “magically come together,” is ON for another year.
Continuing in 2017, Leadville Today’s parent company, The Great Pumpkin, A Media Company will be on point with promotional and PR efforts as it has been in recent years. So stay in touch with all the news and updates on the Leadville Ski Joring Facebook Page, leading up to the event as well as all the action-packed photos, video and results during the races. There has already been communication with some film and commercial companies who will be on the course, so always be ready for your close-up, Leadville!
Also media outlets will need a pass to be on the avenue and those opportunities are LIMITED for safety reasons. So please, plan ahead as new restrictions and access have changed this year – first come, first served. Request your course credentials at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s nothing better than historic Harrison Avenue to set the stage for one heck of a Wild West Show. Hope to see everyone there on March 4 & 5! YeeHaw!