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Cowboys meet X Games near Vail

File photoRider Trevor Schlegel and horse, Nelson, pull Paul Copper at the 4-Eagle Ranch skijoring course last winter near Vail, Colorado.
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EAGLE ” Skijoring is a sport that bridges two different worlds, says competitor Dana Stiles.

“I was born and raised in Colorado and I have never skied a day in my life,” she says.

On the other hand, her skijoring partners often have little to no experience around horses.

But the two sports collide with sometimes spectacular results in skijoring competition.

Skijoring pairs a horse rider with a skier, attached to one another by a length of a rope ” like a water skier tethered to a boat. As the horse gallops down a track, the skier must navigate jumps and obstacles, gathering large rings along the way. It’s not what you would call a mainstream sport.

Stiles started skijoring about 10 years ago when the town of Avon sponsored a race around Nottingham Lake. She entered on a whim. “I was hooked. The rush was just incredible.”

She’s been a regular around the region’s skijoring circuit ever since. “I’ve been fortunate enough to make enough money to keep going,” says Stiles.

Stiles’ best performance was the time she walked away from the nationals at Red Lodge, Mont. with $2,500. Usually a skijoring purse is more in the $300 to $600 range.

So, is it the horse people who steer the skijoring hookups or is it the skiers who run the board? In reality, its a bit of both, says Stiles. Once the race starts, the rider has a single mission ” get down the course as quickly as possible. On the other hand, the skier has to navigate various obstacles and grab all the rings.

“You can have the fastest horse and the best skier, but if you miss one ring its two seconds off your time and you aren’t going to win,” says Stiles.

A really good skijoring skiers know how to handle the slack on their rope effectively, Stiles says.

When trying the sport for the first time, Stiles says skiers are often shocked. Being a skijorer means more than cutting a hard corner, she stressed.

“There is nothing on this planet that will pull you at the start like a horse will,” she says. “We’ve had a lot of people who come in kind of cocky and learn that. We’ve had Olympic-class skiers who said this was the toughest thing they had ever done.”

Tug Birk, of Eagle, was a serious ski racer throughout his childhood and college years and had never been interested in skijoring. But last year at the competition in Leadville, he was pulled behind a horse, on skis, through a course, while trying to spear rings. And he won.

“I had a blast,” says Birk. “I will be back this year. It was fun.”

Chris Anthony, an extreme skiing champion and a Warren Miller veteran, agrees.

“It seemed like this amazing subculture event that took place amongst a very loyal fan and participant base,” says Anthony.

Anthony, like Birk, skijored for the first time last year. Anthony’s performance is featured in the latest Warren Miller Film “Children of Winter,” which was released in the fall.

“This is truly a serious game with consequences,” says Anthony. “Cowboys meet X-Games.”

Anthony said all of his ski experience did not work to his advantage.

“My personal training worked against me. I grew up learning that you did not go off big jumps to flat landings … Of course this is a big part of the pro division. I also learned from my racing background to get forward off a jump. This killed me in the event.”

Both avid downhill skiers, Birk and Anthony, have found a new appreciation for skijoring. After experiencing a spectacular collision last year in Leadville, Anthony has succinct advice for would-be skijoring skiers.

“Respect it,” says Anthony.

What: Skijoring and snocross races

When: Saturday, Jan. 31 and Sunday, Feb. 1

Where: Red Mountain Ranch, 2 miles east of Eagle on Highway 6

Time: Snocross starts at 8:30 a.m. both days, Skijoring starts at 1 p.m. (times are approximate)

Details: Event is a benefit for the local Little Britches Rodeo program.

For more information: Contact Dan Eckert on skijoring, 970-926-1234. For snocross, visit xmrracing.com


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