Leading the Way: A Wild West Tradition
Ski Joring: Giddy-Up to Leadville March 2 & 3
Colorado is known around the world for its outdoor winter recreation: skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice skating, hockey, ice fishing. But when it comes to the boisterous sport of skijoring, Leadville sits tall in the saddle at 10,152 feet with a race course that is surrounded by some of the state’s most notable historic buildings, not to mention Colorado’s two highest peaks. This year marks the 71st 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 the first weekend in March, the celebration will take place Saturday & Sunday, March 2 & 3, 2019.
For those who have never witnessed this sport first-hand, there’ s nothing quite like seeing skiers hurtle 8-foot jumps and spear rings as they’re towed behind speeding horses with adrenaline-fueled riders at the reins. The sport of skijoring continues to grow across the country and around the globe. But it’s Leadville Ski Joring that stands out among the other competitions, mainly due to the course, both its build and its location.
Now separated into four classes – Legends, Open, Sport, and Snowmobile – 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, starting at 9:30 both mornings. 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 Street to 3rd Street. 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 it’s Jason Gusaas Assistant Professor, Ski Area Operations at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville who now builds the course. He’s the guy who maps it out, who says how high, who says how far. And with the snow continuing to come down on historic Harrison Avenue overnight, the race course just may be the biggest competitor in the 2019 line-up.
One last thing: Leadville Ski Joring is put on is to bring folks up to Leadville and put on a Wild West show that they are not likely to forget. But there’s also an economic component to it. So please, patronize #Leadville businesses, the historic brick and mortars that make up beautiful Harrison Avenue are the ones paying those bills and taxes to keep it all going! Help them out if you can, by buying your coffee, beer, grub, and gas here. Yee-Haw!