Winter Sports

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Skijoring: The Niche Sport You Never Met Could Be the Revenue Stream You’ve Always Dreamed Of

29 Nov, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

At least to the initiated, skijoring doesn’t even sound like a real sport. And realistically, an article in Sporting Goods Business recently described it as “skiing meets the rodeo meets Medieval Times.”

If you’re lost on that, it’s a sport in which a person on skis (or these days, a snowboard is also a possibility) is pulled behind a galloping horse. (See illustration to the left). You can also find a video of it on YouTube here.

Variations include dog skijoring, in which the skier is pulled behind a dog (or a team of dogs), and motorized skijoring, in which a skier is pulled behind a motorized vehicle (a snowmobile, motorcycle, ATV, etc.) There is also bikejoring, in which bicyclists are pulled by dogs (that’s a pastime for dry weather, obviously).

Why bring this up? Because as we move into the season of winter sports, skijoring might be a cool spectator sport to incorporate into outdoor snow events during downtime – and could just bring in a whole new revenue stream as a niche market.

But it’s not for the faint of heart (as if you hadn’t guessed that already.) To paraphrase SGB,

The sport of skijoring requires balance and agility. A course typically runs 1,000 feet and features 12 slalom gates, six “jousting rings” that a skier must grab and three ramp-like jumps ranging from 2 to 6 feet in height.

According to Wikipedia, the World Skijoring Championships have been held in Whitefish, Montana since 2009, as a part of the annual Whitefish Winter Carnival. Of note:

The 2011 World Skijoring Championships had an actual purse of $19,580 and 91 teams, and also featured a "Murdoch's Long Jump" competition as a separate class, where a horseman pulls a skier straight ahead as fast as possible, with the skier jumping for maximum distance and landing on the flat. Skiers are required to land upright. Some teams emphasize a speed-acceleration "crack-the-whip" effect by either having the horse veer to the side immediately before the jump, or the skier will carve his or her own crack-the-whip before attempting the jump. The long jump itself is an 8–10 foot jump and the 2011 winning distance was 56 feet.

Were it not for hardcore enthusiasts and winter sports festivals who spread the word about it, skijoring might have faded into oblivion in North America, a bit the way ski ballet (acroski) has. (Anyone remember Suzy Chaffee Chapstick?) Skijoring is still popular in Scandinavia, Switzerland and in other northern regions and has gained niche popularity in America in places like Whitefish, which is also home of the World Skijoring Championships, where it first became popular in the 1950s.

In fact, Wikipedia notes, the USA held the world's largest skijoring event in February 2011 at the City of Lakes Loppet in Minneapolis. A total of 200 skijoring teams raced in this event which included the first ever National Skijoring Championship. Since 2005, the World Championships in the sport have been held in cities in Canada, Sweden, the USA, Norway and Germany.

Event owners who decide to incorporate skijoring should make sure they have adequate insurance to cover participants. (Recent articles on insurance for sports events can be found here and here).

Among the upcoming skijoring events (all planned for cities in Montana) are the following:

Skijoring Events

December 30-31, 2017: Flathead Lake Skijoring Championships, Lakeside

January 6-7, 2018: Last Chance Skijoring - Race for the Gold, Helena

January 20-21, 2018: Duckworth Montana Classic, Bozeman

January 27-28, 2018: Whitefish Winter Carnival, Whitefish

February 3-4, 2018: Wild Horse Stables Skijoring, Lincoln

February 24-25, 2018: Big Hole Valley Winterfest, Wisdom

March 12-13, 2018: National Finals Ski Joring Races, Red Lodge

2018 dates to come:  320 Guest Ranch Skijoring, Gallatin Gateway

And it has a pedigree to boot. SGB notes, Skijoring as a sport actually has a long and distinguished history, beginning in Norway in the 19th century as a way to speed the transmission of army dispatches, according to E. John B. Allen in his book, The Culture and Sport of Skiing. The sport gained in popularity in many parts of the Scandinavian world among those with daredevil spirits and access to draft horses and rope. “Horsemanship was one of the aristocracy’s remaining differences from the urban masses,” wrote Allen.

Don’t look for it in the Winter Olympics – although it did make a start there. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, loved skijoring, and as a result, it was featured at the 1928 St. Moritz Games. Unfortunately, when the event concluded, it was discovered that no one had kept records of  the victors’ names – and thus ended skijoring’s short run at the Games.

Whether the sport will see an Olympic resurrection in decades to come is unknown. Thomas Bach has long expressed a wish to see more edgy sports that appeal to a youthful demographic. Skijoring’s chances of competing with figure skating and international ice hockey for TV market share, however, are probably slimmer than the chances of a snowflake in, well, you figure it out.

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