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Events for Adventurers: Leadville Ski Joring

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You might consider wrapping a taut rope around your arm and praying it doesn’t dislocate your shoulder while a horse runs pell-mell through downtown Leadville crazy. Or you might call it ski joring at the 71st Leadville Ski Joring competition — a three-day extravaganza of one of Colorado’s quirkiest sports held each March. 

Ski joring is where horse and rider take off at breakneck speeds, usually about 35 mph, down a snow-packed strip, pulling a skier who has to go over a course of jumps that are 4 to 6 feet high and collect rings along the sides of the course. 

How did this winter sport come to be? Back in 1949, two friends were trying to figure out a new event to add to the Crystal Carnival, an annual event in Leadville over slices of pie at the Golden Burro Cafe, so they decided to head down to Steamboat Springs’ winter carnival for an idea. There they witnessed ski joring for the first time, but they were unimpressed by how slow the horses were going. They headed back to Leadville and put some quarter horses through their paces running full-out while hauling a human — and that is how the ski joring competition in Leadville was born. 

Fans cheer from the sidelines, even if it’s snowing, as these skiers fly past the Tabor Opera House and Casa Sanchez. This year’s event is taking place March 1–3 with lots of other events happening alongside as part of the Crystal Carnival Weekend, including the Shelter Dog Shuffle (walk, run, snowshoe or ski with man’s best friend), Leadville Nordic Paintball Biathlon (Nordic skiing combined with paintball) and the Backcountry Film Festival. 

You can ride the horse, be the skier, bid on a team or just watch these individuals risk life and limb — we’re only exaggerating a small amount — for cash prizes and bragging rights. The skier is timed through the course and penalties can be given for missing jumps or rings. Teams are created at random right before the start of the event. No preregistration is available; you must show up Friday or Saturday night from 6­–8 pm, depending on which day you want to race, for your slot. Make sure to read over the rules before sitting astride a horse or putting your skis on.

With a little less than a month until the event, get your plans in order to compete, bid or watch. If you plan on competing, don’t forget to keep your mouth closed — horses are messy!

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