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When, Why, Where, How?

By Kathy Bedell

If you are attending Leadville Ski Joring for the first time, you may have a few questions: When is the racing going to start? How does this all work? How can I find out who won?

First of all, when Leadville Ski Joring started 67 years ago, its mission was to bring folks up to Leadville during the slower, snowier months. Organizers wanted to put on a bit of a show, in the hopes that spectators might stay the night or at least stay for dinner and put a bit of cash in the downtown registers. And today, that single purpose remains, so be sure to enjoy your time in Leadville.

Secondly, while ski joring is a competition, it’s more about the spirit of the Wild West, and that includes some fun. Join in the betting, take pictures and share them. Enjoy yourself.

Thirdly, not many things start on time or stick to a schedule in Leadville. That’s just how it goes when you gather together a bunch of independently minded folks above 10,000 feet. Plus add to that the unpredictability of horses and weather. But once the action gets going, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen!

When does the competition start?

Generally speaking, the actual racing begins just after 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. In the mornings, entertainment is by way of the Calcutta Auction, which takes place at the grandstand on Harrison Avenue.

Why are everyone and the horses gathered in front of the grandstand before the competition? What is the Calcutta?

What you’re watching is called the Calcutta Auction: it’s where bets are placed on the horse-skier teams. Every horse-skier team is auctioned to the highest bidder, creating a pool of money. (Skiers are randomly matched up with different horses for each run, so there are far more horse-skier teams than there are skiers.) The bettors who wager on the top three teams win 50 percent, 30 percent and 20 percent, respectively. (That is, after the Leadville Ski Joring Committee takes a modest cut to pay next year’s expenses.)


How many teams are there? 

Anywhere from 30 to 65 teams will register for the competition, with three divisions: kids class (using snowmobiles to pull them), sport class and open class. Firsttime competitors get a chance to prove themselves in the sport class, and if they qualify they can go on to the rowdy open class with the big dogs (er, horses). But the sport class is more than enough for many.

What is the Legends Division?

In recent years, organizers have opened up a fourth class of ski jorers, called the “Legends” division. This one is for the former champions who’ve decided to tone it down in later years but still have what it takes. They compete on the sport course, but since they’d likely beat everyone else in it, they compete among themselves. This is a great way to see some true legends like Jason Dahl and Chris Anthony making things look easy.

Is the winner the fastest skier or the skier who takes the most rings?

The winner is the fastest skier. But mistakes such as dropping a ring, dropping a baton, missing a gate or missing a jump will all result in two seconds being taken off a skier’s time. In a race where the winner might ski the course in under 16 seconds, a dropped ring can be a big deal.

What’s the horserider’s job?

Besides keeping the horse under control, riders have some obstacles of their own: navigating the course smoothly for the skier in tow. Skiers try spearing rings that hang down by magnets over the course while staying in control. It requires some teamwork from both parties to get the skier to the right spot.

Can anyone and their horse participate in the event?

Anyone with a set of alpine skis can enter the sport class. (Only people with a qualifying time from another race or the Leadville practice course can enter the open class.) The sport class has smaller jumps and slower horses than the open class. All skiers and horses are put into a pool and randomly matched up. (There is one exception: horses and skiers who want to race with each other are guaranteed one race together.)

How do I find out who won?

Times are announced during the race over the intercom. After the race, competitors and spectators head down to the Elks Lodge at 123 W. 5th St., where the official printout is compiled and handed out. Leadville Ski Joring also maintains a Facebook page, which posts results, photos and videos.

If you’re looking for a sporting adventure that has skiers barreling down the main avenue of a true “Old West” town, then head up to the granddaddy of them all: Leadville Ski Joring!