Skijoring: the sport that dominates skis, snow and horses

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What is about to happen is an adrenaline rush like no other. In front of him, a horse and a rider are ready for action, ready to load around a tailor-made route with the skier on his way.

To some it may seem terrifying; to others, exciting. Most, however, will have seen nothing like it in their lives.

This unlikely trio of horse, rider and skier, who can reach speeds of up to 40 mph, has been united by the sport of skiing.

For Aaron Griffen, the scene is familiar. He is the current American champion and a regular face on the ski circuit in the United States.

Once hoping to compete on the American ski team, Griffen discovered the sport in 2016 and, after winning the first test in which he participated, has not looked back.

“He was originally an alpine skier,” Griffen tells CNN. “I competed competitively for ten years. I also have a rider training and I know a lot of people involved in horses.

“It was actually a friend of mine who contacted me telling me I wanted to try it and I needed a skier … we tried it and haven’t stopped since.”

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“Another notch in the trophy”

Western-style competitive skiing in the United States has its origins in Leadville, Colorado. Originally a slow-paced show for winter carnivals, it wasn’t until the 1950s that it was transformed into a race and in the 1990s the modern era of sport was born.

In essence, skiing is a time trial. The races take place on round or straight tracks that include jumps, gates, and sometimes rings that are collected during the lap. If any of these are lost, temporary sanctions are imposed.

Western-style skiing is just one version of the sport; others exist without riders – the most famous in St. Moritz, Switzerland – and with dogs instead of horses.

Griffen, who also works as an excavator, competed in 11 tests last year.

“Most of the funding comes out of my pocket. I had a small sponsor last year,” he explains.

“I still go back to my job here and there [during the winter months] – skijoring is strictly weekends “.

Outside of the competitive races organized by the SJA (Ski Joring America), Griffen confesses that he practices practically nothing.

“I’ve probably practiced twice in the last three years out of competition. It has a kind of garden, cooked and barbecue. It’s just a fun event.

“A lot of the competitors are the same every weekend, they travel around here. We pick up some locals here and there, but for the most part, everyone knows each other.

“The goal this year is to get another category in the trophy.”

Risky business?

While Griffen admits that his skiable trajectory doesn’t make speed a fear, for newcomers to the sport, sudden acceleration as the horse approaches the starting blocks makes him get used to it. .

Injuries do occur, though Matt Crossett, chairman of the SJA board, says they are not as common as one might think.

“The most important thing for a skier is the beginning, learning not to get pulled over by the horse because when the horse goes, it lasts.

“In the last two years, we have had two people injured, some of them more serious than others. We had a skier who ripped off her ACL because she jumped badly and there was another skier who dislocated her shoulder. and was unconscious for a few minutes as he jumped.

“But this is very rare … It can happen, but I would say it is quite rare.

“The top priority for us is to keep horses safe because they have no voice. We take a lot of extreme measures to make sure horses are safe.”

Winning formula

Crossett acknowledges that it is a technical sport. The most successful trios thrive in chemistry between horse, rider and skier, and it is for this reason that Griffen tries to keep up with the same rider, his friend Ebbie Hansen.

Although Griffen is part of a group of about 50 who are regular faces on the ski circuit, the sport is open to everyone with specific competitions for beginners.

There are $ 25,000 scholarships on the most prestigious courses in Ridgeway, Colorado and Bozeman, Montana; taking $ 4,000 for a single event is “pretty high,” according to Crossett.

“All the cities that set it up want to boost their economy … Some do it on the main street of their city. It’s often part of a bigger winter carnival. It’s a good time to go out and have fun. if in the snow “.

“It’s a great mix [of people competing]. You have everything from bucket lists that just want to come and try, to kids, teens, former ski runners and Olympic athletes.

“It’s really a sport for everyone.”

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