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The Pull of Pounding Hooves A brief history of Western skijoring BY JESSIANNE CASTLE

LEADVILLE, COLORADO, 1949.

Irishman Tom Schroeder and “Mugs” Ossman, a quarter horse breeder just north of town, breathed deeply before letting loose on a run for the history books. At the cue, Ossman’s horse plunged through a pasture of deep snow, while Schroeder clung tight to the rope, leaning into his skis. This practice session was a precursor to the inaugural Leadville skijoring event, held that same year and recognized by many as the first organized iteration of the competition sport in the West. Skijoring, in one form or another, has been an important enterprise in snowbound lands for hundreds of years. A word with Norwegian origins, skijoring can be spelled many ways— skijøring, skikjoring, skijoering—and its meaning is as open-ended as its practice: ski driving. Traditionally, dogs, reindeer or horses were harnessed and driven by skiers, a mode of efficient transportation when snow might otherwise impede travel. Skiing historian E. John B. Allen, the author of The Culture and Sport of Skiing: From Antiquity to World War II, places the first reference to skijoring in China, at least 400 years ago, when teams of dogs were used. It wasn’t until much more recently, though, that skijoring in the Western sense—where a skier clutches a rope, tethered to a horse and rider— truly emerged.

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LOREN ZHIMANSKOVA, the founder of the race series Skijor USA, has been passionate about equine skijoring for over a decade, fascinated by the way two very different lifestyles have come together to create the sport. Zhimanskova, who splits her time between Colorado and New York, said skijoring probably arrived in the U.S. sometime in the 1930s when tourists returned from winter visits to Europe. Enjoyed as a leisure activity, it became wildly popular at winter carnivals, spreading from the East Coast to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, as well as other snowy Western destinations. Historic photographs portray both men and women, either driving a riderless horse, or being pulled by a human-equine duo. “I guess it just depends on if somebody told you [that] you could trust the horse,” Zhimanskova said, explaining the use of a rider. Zhimanskova also noted that skijoring’s single appearance as a demonstration sport at the 1928 Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland, probably contributed to its popularity—she describes it as a “quirky sport” with staying power. “I think it’s beautiful,” she said. “Anyone who sees a horse in snow, it gives you that awe feeling. Skiing is fun, it’s a great feeling gliding on snow. When you combine those things, it’s like magic.”

Profile for Outlaw Partners

2019 Winter Mountain Outlaw  

With award-winning editorial content, design and photography, Mountain Outlaw magazine has been described as “Powder Magazine meets Rolling...

2019 Winter Mountain Outlaw  

With award-winning editorial content, design and photography, Mountain Outlaw magazine has been described as “Powder Magazine meets Rolling...