Saratoga, Wyoming: Skijoring Races

When we moved to Wyoming, I signed up for all of the state and local tourism accounts so I could get a better understanding of the area. Our move was in late fall so the newsletters I received focused on things to do during winter, both at the national and state parks as well as in individual communities.

One of the activities previewed for February was skijoring. I had never heard the word and had no idea what it was so I immediately looked into it!

Rodeo may be Wyoming’s official sport, but skijoring is the state’s unofficial winter sport. It is a uniquely Western athletic and cultural phenomenon. 

Skijoring is a sport that combines skiing and horseback riding. There are two participants: one rides the horse as quickly as possible, while the other straps on skis and holds on to a modified water ski rope for dear life as the horse pulls them.

In more exciting, contemporary versions of the sport, skiers, and riders must navigate through slalom gates and over jumps as big as 7 feet high. That’s what you’ll see in skijoring competitions across the state.

It turned out the 2022 competitions were mostly canceled due to lack of snow, but that hasn’t been a problem in 2023 and I found the largest skijoring competition in the state was only a few hours from our home in Saratoga.

Saratoga Skijoring Races

Thus, last weekend we set out early on Saturday for the Saratoga Skijoring Races. We made a day of it, attending the competition and then checking out the local hot spring and historic hotel.

There were three categories of competitors on Saturday – kids, novices, and 3D pros. The kids were fun – some of them just held on and tried to make it down the track without falling while others actually went through the gates where you reached up to collect rings, earning points for each ring you brought to the finish line.

The novices and pros also went through the rings only at much faster speeds – some simply raised their arms to collect the rings as they swift passed underneath while others used a rod to collect the rings and hold them close the rest of their sprint.

There were several ramps for both the novices and pros to go over – one larger jump after the first set of rings, a smaller mound that required them to switch to skiing on the other side of the horse, one at the very end with moguls, and then a very large jump that only the pros used.

The pros were competing for big money and it’s a timed event so they skied with great efficiency – going over the jumps as quickly and smoothly as possible.

The novices – on the other hand – seemed to take more liberties with the jumps and many of them did something fun off the first big one. Brian captured a few of the more entertaining and performative jumps below – one guy on his snowboard instead of the traditional skis!

The key to the biggest jump was speed – while the skiers were entertaining, their ability to make it down the track had everything to do with the horse and rider pulling them.

We saw several horses decide they weren’t going through with things half-way through their run. One, featured in the photos below, actually started bucking his rider at the first ramp. The rider hung on and got his horse back under control to much applause and fanfare from the crowd!

A couple others were not as lucky. While a few skiers simply lost control – nothing to do with the rider or horse – we saw one bad accident where the horse simply wasn’t going fast enough.

This happened a few times, but usually the skier knew they weren’t going fast enough to make the jump and simply skied alongside the ramp, which made for an incomplete run.

Unfortunately the son of the couple we were standing beside misjudged his jump and crashed into the other side. He was taken away in an ambulance with a broken ankle, and we couldn’t believe he escaped with only that injury – it was a high and far jump and he hit the wall really hard.

Several of the teams were incredibly impressive – the horse and rider were comfortable and flying down the track, and the skier was in complete control.

It was exciting to watch, and we had a great standing spot along the fencing in front of the ramps but with views up and down the track. People who knew better than us what to expect came early and backed their trucks along the fence so they could put chairs in the back and settle in for the day’s activities. Happily we dressed for the weather so I was comfortable standing in the snow with my coffee in hand, cheering on the competitors!

I enjoyed traveling to Saratoga and learning a little more about that area. There is another way to loop over there that we might check out on the bikes this summer. I also loved having my first skijoring experience and taking one more step toward embracing our Wyoming home!

2 thoughts on “Saratoga, Wyoming: Skijoring Races

  1. Pingback: Cross-Country Skiing in Frisco, Colorado – Heather's Compass

  2. Pingback: Weekend in Saratoga, Wyoming – Heather's Compass

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