By Amanda Eggert EBS Staff Writer

BIG SKY – Equestrian skijoring, with its mix of horseman skills and skier stoke, has found a welcome home 12 miles south of Big Sky at the 320 Guest Ranch. The event returns to the ranch for the sixth consecutive year, Feb. 6 and 7.

During an equestrian skijoring race, a horseback rider pulls a skier through an obstacle course in a timed run. There are other versions of skijoring that involve mules, dogs, bikes and snowmobiles.

Skijoring – which comes from a Norwegian term meaning “ski driving” – wasn’t very common when the ranch started hosting races in 2011.

“There were only a few events [in the U.S.],” said Megan Coppola, 320’s marketing coordinator and dining room manager. “Now it’s very popular and it’s spread nationally.”

Although the 320 race isn’t one of its sanctioned events, the North American Ski Joring Association was established in 1999 to advance the sport. NASJA races are currently held in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado and New Mexico. Next year, Utah and Arizona will be added to the list.

“I really think that once you see it, and especially once you do it, you really get into it,” said NASJA president and skijoring competitor Scott Ping, referencing the sport’s growth.

“A lot of these teams will work the circuit – rodeo in the summer and skijoring in the winter,” Coppola said. “Jackson, Red Lodge, Whitefish, 320 – they can honesty hit a skijoring event every weekend.”

Skiers will navigate a series of slalom gates, 2- to 3-foot jumps and banked turns on 320’s 400-yard course. Time penalties are given for a missed turn or jump. “You want to have the fastest, cleanest run,” Coppola said.

Successful teams have riders who skillfully adjust their horse’s speed and work their horse across the course, Coppola said, as well skiers who manage their speed by taking in or paying out slack in the rope.

Coppola said they won’t know how much money this year’s winning team will walk away with until registration is complete, but last year’s total payout was $1,900.

Typically the skier and rider work together prior to the event, but last year’s winning team in the open division – the most competitive category – met at the event and left with $635.

The combination of horses, skiers, speed and jumps tends to result in a fair amount of carnage, but a search and rescue team will be on hand to assist with medical treatment if needed.

“It damn near killed me three times,” Ping said of skijoring events he’s competed in. “I can’t tell you all the injuries I’ve had doing this sport, but I keep doing it because I love it.”

As with previous years, a local brewery and distillery will offer tastings of their products both days – Red Lodge Ales and Bozeman Spirits will also be on hand Saturday night at the 320 banquet hall, where Bozeman-based Rocky Mountain Pearls will play country tunes.

Registration opens Saturday, Feb. 6 and both days of racing, as well as the Rocky Mountain Pearls concert, are free for spectators. Visit 320ranch.com/activities for more information.