MINTURN — With Rocky Mountain Skijoring canceled on Saturday, the winnings were even more hefty on the final day of racing. Skiers pulled by horses and riders competed for a more than $10,000 prize purse on Sunday, the highest stakes yet in the annual event.
Originally scheduled to be a two-day affair, Saturday’s races were canceled due to icy conditions which made the Minturn Road course dangerous for horses. That left the entire prize pool reserved for one day of racing.
The Minturn Road course contained jumps, gates and two series of rings skiers attempted to capture with a wand en route to the finish, all while being pulled by a horse. A timed sport, 2 seconds are added if the rider fails to grab one of the rings. Five rings in total adorned the Minturn course; the first station had two rings and the second had three.
With high speeds and spectacular crashes, skijoring is an action packed event, and Sunday’s action came right down to the final moments as Minturn resident and veteran competitor Pavel Trnka skied to victory in the final run of the day with a time of 16.85 seconds. Trnka was pulled by rider Will James on Tanner the horse.
Trnka was also part of the third-place team, as JP Oha and a horse called Newt pulled him to a time of 17.66 seconds, barely edging out Tim McCarthy and Shawn Gerber, who finished in 17.70 seconds. In second place was Dana Stiles on the horse Merlin pulling Jason Dahl, who crossed with a time of 17.44 seconds.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Timing in skijoring is fairly sophisticated, an automated system that starts when the skier crosses a piece of carpet and ends when the skier crosses a finish gate.
“We wouldn’t be able to do it without (Leadville Ski Joring) coming down and helping us with the timing equipment,” said Sherry Graham, the founder of the Minturn skijoring races. “The grandaddy of Leadville Ski Joring, Joe Manley, does our timing.”
While the Leadville races have been going on since 1949, Minturn’s skijoring is only in its third year. But with the prize pool starting at $4,500 in its first year, growing to $8,500 in its second year and being more than$10,000 this year, the event has taken off and received the support of the community as well.
“People started donating back in October,” said Graham. “Silent auction, chiropractor, hair cuts, you name it. People have really come out to support this event.”
As a true measure of success, this was the first year the races in Minturn had cold beer for sale thanks to Darin Anderson, of Bonfire Brewing.
Anderson is a skijoring racer who won the sport division at the Leadville Ski Joring competition on March 2.
“I really wanted that beer here,” Anderson said from the course on Sunday.
But like his efforts to snag those crucial rings during his skijoring runs, Anderson also had to jump through hoops to get beer on the sidelines.
“Liquor permits, insurance ... this was not an event that a lot of insurance companies would like to insure,” Anderson said.
With skijoring being such a curiosity-inspiring sport, competitors in the sport division are often walk-ons trying the sport for the first time.
“We went for breakfast this morning at the Turntable, and a guy there was sitting in the back and said ‘Are you guys looking for registration?’” said Kerry Sims, of Denver, who donned a bright orange vest on Sunday. “I said ‘Registration, for what?’ We found out there was a skijoring competition going on today and signed up immediately.”
Newbies like Sims are the reason you’ll see most of the carnage in the sport division as opposed to the more competitive open division.
“My first time down, I had a clean jump, I got two of the rings, made it to the first gate and wiped out before the second jump,” said Sims. “The second run, when I landed I didn’t feel right, but I stood back up, went for the rings anyway and plowed right into the post (holding the rings). I took the post out and went straight into the snow bank.”
But not all competitors were so unsuccessful on their first attempts. In the kids event, 5-year-old Lucas Tucholke slayed the course while being pulled by a snowmobile.
“This is our playground, this whole area, so of course he wanted to try it,” Darin Tucholke, Lucas’ father, said. “We got his skis out this morning, walked up and I said ‘Lucas wants to try the course,’ they looked at him and said ‘Well then sign the waiver, and you can run it twice ‘cause now you’re racing.’”
Following the race, Lucas described the adventure: “There’s this little jump at the starting, and then you had to go up a little hill and then you had to come down, I tried to get (a ring) but I couldn’t. And then I went through this puddle and my goggles got splashy.”