HAILEY • Pulled along by a galloping horse, skiers quickly navigate a series of obstacles as they glide on top of snow.
The sport — known as skijoring — combines horseback riding and competitive skiing. And as a new skijoring season approaches, local enthusiasts are getting ready to race.
Wood River Extreme Skijoring Association is organizing two days of races, slated for Feb. 8-9. A location hasn’t been selected yet, but association secretary/treasurer Michelle Bobbitt said it will likely be in Hailey.
Bobbitt got started with skijoring more than 10 years ago after she heard about the sport from a co-worker.
If you’re looking to try it out, it’s helpful to love competition and “running at full blast,” she said. “You’ve got to be somebody who likes speed and the rush.”
Give it a try, Bobbitt said, and you’ll see why people get hooked. “It’s just a blast.”
Most of the local skijoring competitors will start using a practice track in January and will have about a month to get ready for races. But many people start getting into the swing of things earlier.
“As soon as the snow gets here, people are already riding horses,” Bobbitt said.
During a skijoring race, a horseback rider pulls along a skier, who holds onto a rope that’s attached to the saddle.
In a timed race, the horse gallops straight down the track at up to 30 mph. But skiers have a series of jumps and gates to navigate. They also have to try to grab rings along the track — which is typically 750 to 1,000 feet long.
“There are usually about five rings that the skier has to have,” Bobbitt said.
If any of the obstacles are missed or if rings are dropped, skiers get a penalty on their time.
It typically takes 14 to 20 seconds to get through the course, depending on the snow depth.
Those who make the best skijoring racers are skilled downhill skiers and “know how to come off the jumps,” Bobbitt said.
There are about 30-40 people involved in the Wood River Extreme Skijoring Association, she said. They race in categories such as open, youth, novice, women and sport.
Though there are plenty of skiers, there aren’t as many horseback riders involved, Bobbitt said. She hopes to get the word out to ropers who might be interested.
Horseman Casey Meggers — a former Hansen resident who recently moved out of the area — is in his third skijoring season. He takes his horses on a three- to five-mile ride each day and progressively builds up their speeds.
This year, he said, he’ll probably compete in races in the Wood River Valley, Teton Valley, Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Bozeman, Mont. In January, he’ll start practicing at a track near Bellevue.
Dan Vandermeulen, who operates a farm and ranch south of Bellevue, creates the practice track.
“It works out for me because I have the machinery sitting there and the land sitting idle in the middle of winter,” he said.
Preparing for a skijoring race takes a huge amount of dedication and preparation for a short race, Vandermeulen said.
“I think the biggest challenge in this whole sport is the whole sportsmanship and the condition of a horse in the middle of the winter,” he said.
Vandermeulen said he hopes to see participation at the Wood River race increase this year — especially among Magic Valley residents. If people are interested in trying it out, he said, they’re welcome to come to the practice track on his property.