Who, What, Where, Now!
Photography by Hailey Tucker
A pair of Carhartt leather gloves sticks out of the back right pocket of every other person’s jeans. The scents of barbeque and burgers waft through the air and few of the audience members feel the need to wait until its technically “after-noon” to crack open their first tall can of Budweiser. Country western music is blasting out of the track’s speakers, and my small Subaru wagon is one of only eight cars in the quickly filling parking lot that isn’t a truck. As far as I can tell, it’s the Fourth of July, but it’s February.
People shuffle about in cowboy boots despite the snow and set up what will soon be the racecourse for the Wood River Extreme Ski-joring Association’s (WRESJA) annual competition. Some level off the tops of the two ski jumps while others try to direct the event volunteers, horseback riders and skiers to where they each need to be.
The crowd buzzes with speculations and explanations as to how the cross-bred horseback-riding and ski-racing sport works. As we all learn later, the WRESJA race involves horseback riders towing skiers through a course where they must ski around gates, go off two jumps and grab five rings without letting go of their towropes. The rider must also grab one ring, which hangs higher off the ground than the skier’s rings, while riding as fast as possible without letting the speed hinder the skiing teammate.
Once the races began, the crowd was thrilled. Competitors of all ages and skill levels came out; some to show off their ski-joring talent and others to try it out for first time.
Project Planner Tyler Peterson said WRESJA put an emphasis on encouraging new people to get involved this year. Peterson said they did not make the jumps as large as they have been in the past in hopes of helping people stir up the courage to try the sport.
Skijoring itself began in Scandinavia hundreds of years ago as a form of winter transportation. Today, now generally a recreational activity, ski-joring can be done in a variety of ways, ranging from a skier being pulled behind sled dogs or a horse to motorized vehicles.
Often times the race rules vary as well. For the WRESJA race, teams were penalized with added time for any rings they missed or dropped and were disqualified if either team member dropped the towrope or completely missed a jump.
Aside from the oddity of the sport as a whole, ski-joring struck me as unique because it was the first time I had seen skiers and cowboys spending time side-by-side. The race was the merging point of two cultures. Never before had I witnessed so many men wearing Wrangler jeans and cowboy hats in the same place as those sporting low-riding snowpants and goggle tans.
Peterson said this melding of cultures is one of his favorite things about ski-joring.
“It’s the only sport that brings two different lifestyles together,” Peterson said.
The scene at the WRESJA race seemed especially fitting for a Valley like ours, where the foundations stem equally from a history of farming and a history of skiing. And witnessing some of the Valley’s best riders paired up with some of its best skiers, including the winning team of rider Taylor Stocklein and Hunter Storey, further demonstrated how prominent both lifestyles remain around town.
For those who missed the WRESJA race this past weekend, Idaho Public Television will be airing footage from the races in early March. And, for those interested in trying the sport that has the capability to sum our western-style ski town up all in one, Peterson said the WRESJA is working to build a practice track for next winter and is always looking for new people to join. For more information on WRESJA visit www.woodriveresja.com/.
Things to Buzz about:
Lunar Eclipse Rail Jam--Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011
The second part of the Lunar Eclipse Rail Jam Series runs 3-7 p.m. on the Dollar Mountain terrain parks. See some of the local and visiting athletes show their park skills while you grab a bite and listen to music. For more information visit www.sunvalley.com.
Mountain Niceness Fest 2011--Saturday, Feb.19 and Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011
The Mountain Niceness Fest will open Saturday morning at 8 a.m. with The Up Down-Get Down race on Durrance, north of Ketchum. Skiers will race, skinning up and then skiing down Durrance Mountain. The race will raise funds for Sun Valley Adaptive Sports and the Sawtooth Avalanche Center. Then the annual Marley in the Mountains concert will kick off at 4 p.m. and feature performances by Ethan Tucker and the Grass Roots All-Stars, Carlos Jones and the Plus Band and Swagger. Wake up Sunday morning to call on the snow gods with the Snow Salutations yoga class at 11 a.m. For more information on any of the festival events, visit http://marleyinthemountains.com/.