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Cowboys, skiers unite in skijor event Feb. 9-10

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Melissa Ostrander, on horseback, and skier Glen Hutchinson make their winning run during the inaugural Best in the West Showdown skijoring competition in Big Sky last year. Ostrander and Hutchinson were last year’s national champions of the sport division for Skijoring America. PHOTOS BY MARK LAROWE

By Jessianne Castle EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – An amalgam of cowboy grit and ski town stoke, the sport of skijoring returns to Big Sky Town Center on Feb. 9 and 10 with wild, Western fun. The second annual Best in the West Showdown pits teams of horse, rider and skier against each other in a timed race across 800 feet of snow, complete with jumps, banked turns and adrenaline-pumping speed.

As a part of the national Skijoring America league and hosted by the Big Sky Skijoring Association, event organizers expect to see competitors from around the country, with the inaugural competition last year drawing 80 teams.

“Running on a horse gives you a feeling of freedom that you can’t get anywhere else and the skier gets that adrenaline rush by not really being able to control their own speed. Communication is huge,” said Audrey Williams, a horseback competitor and board member of Skijoring America.

Williams, who will compete in Big Sky during her fourth season touring the Montana circuit, said she loves that skijoring puts cowboys and skiers together. “Big Sky is so unique because we have some of the greatest skiing and we also have a lot of dude ranches and old-West feel,” she added. Williams lived in the Big Sky area for six years before moving to the Bitterroot just over a year ago.

With cash prizes for the top winners and categories that include open, novice, snowboard and youth, there’s opportunity to skijor competitively or try it out for the first time. According to Big Sky resident Justa Adams, a former competitor and member of BSSA, anyone can show up at registration and give it a try, whether they go slow or fast. Often, she said individuals can find a team member at registration as well.

The course, built the week before, will run along Simkins Drive at the intersection of Aspen Leaf Drive in Big Sky Town Center.

“We’re very excited about the snow we’re getting,” Adams said, adding that three competitions earlier in the Skijoring America series had to be canceled due to minimal snow. For other events, organizers might truck snow in, but Adams said they will be able to use the snow piles plowed by the Big Sky Community Organization to help build the Big Sky course.

RJ Klotz, the director of membership sales for the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce and a member of Skijoring America, has developed the course design to ensure safety and good viewing opportunities.

“It’s another opportunity for a family friendly event that’s community focused,” he said on behalf of the chamber. “The event also brings people from all over the western states to compete and spectate. Skijoring is a unique sport that draws a lot of people to our destination.”

While the BSSA event is gaining traction, skijoring certainly isn’t new to Big Sky. Historically, the 320 Guest Ranch held their own skijoring event, though it wasn’t a sanctioned Skijoring America race. Rather than hold two events this year, the 320 is working with BSSA. “We thought it was a good time to hand the torch over to them. At the same time, we still want to support it,” said 320 hotel manager Carla Rey. “And now it’s all the rage.”

Overall, Adams said momentum from last year’s event has brought the community together in support of the skijoring competition. “It’s really been a community event where people have really stepped up to help,” she said. This year’s gold sponsors include the 320 Guest Ranch, First Security Bank and the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation.

Adams also said volunteers play a key role in setting up for the event and helping watch for course accuracy on race day.

For those wishing to help with this year’s skijoring, contact Adams at or (406) 600-1316.

Joseph T. O'Connor is the previous Editor-in-Chief for EBS newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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