It is against this gorgeous backdrop that Leadville holds one of our other claims to fame: the skijoring tournament. During the first weekend of every March, Harrison Avenue (or Main Street) is closed off to cars and piled with snow. This snow is smoothed out into a course, complete with jumps and poles dangling bright orange rings. The aim of the game is to have a horse run down the flat part of the course, while pulling a skier holding a short pole. The skier has to go over the jumps, land successfully, and then catch the rings on his pole in the shortest amount of time. Missing a ring or a jump adds to the team’s overall time.
Skijoring was originally invented in Norway. There are many different versions, including dog skijoring and horse skijoring. Some races focus only on time; some involve moving through an obstacle course, or slaloming through gates. It is an important competitive sport in Colorado, with the tournaments moving from town to town. Leadville’s competition is considered the preeminent event, and it has been held there since 1949 (Wikipedia.org). Skijoring horses must be trained to accept pulling a rider behind them, and to remain calm in competition environments. There are two separate divisions in the Leadville competition: the sports division and the open division. However, these names are a bit misleading. The sports division (which to me sounds like the higher level one) actually goes over smaller jumps, whereas the open division takes on the higher ones.
It might surprise you to learn that, despite living in Leadville for 14 years, I actually have never seen skijoring before this year. For some reason, I was never really interested. But this year, in my effort to try more things and say “yes” more often, I decided to give it a go. Maybe it would be more interesting than I thought.
We got there around 12:00pm, and I was very worried that we had missed all the fun. The only people on the track were little kids being pulled by snowmobiles (or skidoos for my Canadian readers). And while they were cute and talented, this wasn’t the event I had come to see. So, Justin and I retreated to a restaurant called The Golden Burro, since we hadn’t eaten yet. Unfortunately my food was pretty terrible and I couldn’t finish it. At this point I was very grumpy, until the cashier told us that the event didn’t start until 1:30 and usually started late anyway. Then Justin said he would buy me a burrito from Gringo's (yes, “gringos” or “white people”). Talk about a rapid mood swing! I was all smiles after that.
However, they weren’t kidding when they said they started late. We wandered around Main Street, checking out shops, wondering when they would begin. Justin bought me a cute Ugly Doll, who I named Beep Bloop. Two hours later, I suggested we go get that burrito, and by the time we came back maybe they would have started.
It worked out pretty well. We got back and the sports division had just begun. Each run was exciting, if short lived, lasting between 17 and 25 second. It was fun cheering for them when they landed jumps or scored rings, or gasping when they wiped out and then cheering their courage. One guy fell off of his horse! Twenty teams later, they started the open division and we got to see them catch air on the higher jumps. By this time it was early evening and quite cold, but it was still a lot of fun. I got good footage despite the crowds, and I had some friendly conversation with an older couple next to us. I also got to see a couple old friends and catch up.
Overall, it was a good day with blue skies, cute horses, and impressive runs. I do wish the times had been on the Leadville website, though, so I could have skipped the waiting in the cold for two hours. But, if you like quirky, small-town traditions, skiing, or horses, I highly suggest checking out skijoring in Leadville. It was a lot more fun than I anticipated, and you feel a great sense of community cheering with the crowd full of both locals and tourists. However, don’t bother getting there early. If you are there and they’ve just started bidding on the teams, maybe check out the cute stores on Main Street (I recommend the Rock Hut, Hundley’s, or Melanzana), or visit the awesome museums nearby. The National Mining Museum is pretty cool. Then come back, maybe with a cup of hot cocoa in hand, and watch the skis fly.
Have you ever visited a town that not many people knew about? Do you like small town traditions like skijoring? What's your favorite kind of horse? (I like the ones with buckskin coloring!) Let me know in the comments, and check out some of the skijoring runs below!