Horseback riding and downhill skiing are two sports that don’t immediately come to mind as a natural pair but every winter they collide in the sport of skijoring.
Originating in Scandinavia, skijoring has been a casual pastime as well as a competitive sport in the West for about 30 years. Using the power of a horse and rider, a skier holds onto a rope and steers through a course full of obstacles, jumps and gates. The fastest time wins.
Rider C.R. Kunesh of Helena, who is among the best in the sport, described the rush of racing down the track to a cheering crowd.
“It can be a little bit on the edge of insanity, and sometimes you just don’t know what’ll happen out there,” he said.
What started as niche races have become major wintertime events for many communities across Montana and the West. In recent years skijoring has expanded its footprint in Montana with new events popping up in Lincoln and Helena. Those go along with circuit races in Kalispell, Whitefish, Big Sky, Wisdom, Butte and Red Lodge, as well as a proposed race this year in Bozeman.
While every event is a true spectator sport full of thundering hooves, skiers flying by and carving turns, the races include a number of different divisions, including for novices. That means anyone with a pair of skis and possibly questionable judgement can get behind the horse and give it a try.
Montana skijoring races this winter include:
Kalispell – Skijoring at Rebecca Farm, Dec. 29 and 30
Helena – Race for the Gold, Jan. 5 and 6
Butte – Skijor Butte, Jan. 19 and 20
Lincoln – Skijor Lincoln, Jan. 19 and 20
Big Sky – Best of the West Showdown, Feb. 9 and 10
Wisdom – Big Hole Valley Winterfest, Feb. 23 and 24
Red Lodge – Red Lodge National Finals, March 9 and 10