Skijorers return to Eagle County
Vail, CO Colorado
WOLCOTT, Colorado ” On one of his training runs, Jack Henderson-Adams launched off a 10-foot mound of snow going close to 40 miles per hour, came down hard and popped out of both of his skis.
In one fluid motion, Henderson-Adams rolled on his side, popped up and walked back to collect his skis.
“I’ve done it a lot,” he said before returning to the start line for another test pass on the skijoring course at 4 Eagle Ranch on Sunday in Wolcott.
He also has sailed over all the jumps, clapped his skis down and collected almost all of the rings on the course ” in his very first competition, nonetheless.
“It was good; I wound up in fourth place,” Henderson-Adams said.
Despite a hard fall on his second competition run Saturday, Henderson-Adams was back in the boots Sunday more falls and finishes.
“I feel like I was run over by a steamroller,” Henderson-Adams said, before taking a tumble during practice on Sunday. “(On Saturday), it was a really hard course ” pretty tight and really fast. It ate a lot of people up for lunch. I managed to lose a ski and have a nice crash.
“This is so addictive,” he continued. “It’s an awesome atmosphere, friendly people and a great place to come hang out for a Sunday afternoon.”
A contingent of skiers and riders (along with their horses) on hand for the back end of the two-day skijoring event felt the same way as Henderson-Adams ” pleasantly sore.
“Just one run today. I’m a little hurt,” said Jesse Biggins, who fell on the first jump Saturday and held on for several seconds while being dragged in hopes of getting back on his feet. “It was a tough day yesterday, but you’ve just got to cowboy up for 15 seconds.”
Skiers move through the course while being pulled on a rope by a horse in about 15 seconds and are penalized if they miss a jump, marked gates or rings that hang from poles. And if they don’t cross the finish line, they are disqualified.
While all the fast-paced action takes place between the start and finish line, the riders spend hours preparing for those 15 seconds.
“It takes us awhile,” said Dana Stiles, who took second Saturday and won Sunday. “You have to saddle them, get their boots on, warm them up, cool them down, take them home, unhook the trailer, feed them. It’s a lot more work.”
Riders usually are paired up with different skiers, although there are teams, such as the father-son tandem of Jeff and Greg Dahl.
“My kids were in ski racing and once they got done with that and had time, we started skijoring,” said Jeff, who raised his family in Leadville where they hold a yearly skijoring festival.
Greg, 24, has been flying behind horses on skis for almost 10 years.
“When I was younger, they would only let me do the kids event, but they would let me forerun the big course, and I did that until I was 17,” he said.
On Saturday at 4 Eagle, as well as last weekend at a pair of races at the Vancampen Ranch in Eagle, Greg and Jeff bested the competition. While Greg won with the accomplished rider Stiles and one of her horses Sunday, he thinks it’s generally easier to ski behind his father versus an unknown horse or rider.
“You know you’ve got a good horse, a good team and a good rider,” he said. “I know how the horse responds, how he pulls me. It’s definitely a little bit of an advantage.”
Along with their wins in Eagle County, the Dahls have found success in Leadville, where they won both races the past two years.
“My son is a good skier,” Jeff said. “He’s gotten to the point where he’s giving younger, newer skiers pointers because we want more competitors.”
True to his father’s words, Greg gave Henderson-Adams a pointer about 30 minutes later on how to hold the rope.
After some practice runs on snowmobiles, the riders waited to go as spectators placed wagers on teams at the Calcutta. The sport division, which runs on the half of the course with smaller jumps, went first, followed by the open division.
As riders corralled their excited horses at the start, skiers gathered up the slack on the rope and braced for a rapid acceleration. In no time, the horses reach top speed, and the skiers immediately began the dance of weaving back and forth while shifting the rope and picking up slack.
Coming off the jumps, the skiers’ legs clapped the ground as they squatted in the back seat of their skis to absorb the shock.
There isn’t much time for the skiers to think, and the riders rarely look behind them.
“I like the speed, the adrenaline and excitement of everyone cheering you on,” rider Allen Bearden said.
“I have a love for the sport ” that’s why I’m here, not necessarily to win,” Greg Dahl said.
Many of the competitors from the 4 Eagle event plan on attending the Leadville festival in two weekends.
“Absolutely,” said Henderson-Adams. “And with hopes that if I’m still in one piece, I’ll go to Red Lodge, (Mont.), for the national finals.”
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or email@example.com.