By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER
On Feb. 4-5, the Big Sky Skijoring Association will host their fifth annual “Best in the West Showdown” in Big Sky.
Skijoring is a fusion of horseback riding, skiing and waterskiing in which horse, rider and skier follow a roughly 900-foot-long course including jumps, banked turns, gates and other obstacles. In partnership with the Big Sky Ski Education Foundation, this year’s two-day event will also incorporate a freestyle snowmobiling exposition where professional snowmobilers perform backflips and other tricks. And for the first time in the festival’s five years, the Montana State University Rodeo Team will lead an opening parade in Town Center on Feb. 4, including local organizations and community members.
Skijoring registration is open to the public, at various levels and formats which may require finding a team through Facebook groups listed on the BSSJ registration page. Registration in the 12-and-under Junior Class is free.
According to a BSSJ press release, “the best skijoring teams [will] gather to test their skill and grit to see who will be crowned the best in the West,” and the event is hosted by Delzer Diversified Inc., RentBiz and Lone Mountain Land Company.
“Southwest Montana has recently been the epicenter for the growth of competitive skijoring and has turned out some of the best skijoring teams in the country,” the release also stated, adding that last year’s event attracted 3,300 spectators and more than 150 teams looking to tackle the event’s progressive course design which features a rare right-handed dog leg, fire features and elements of banked slalom.
“One of the reasons this race is a favorite amongst the competitors is because we put the safety of the horse first,” stated Patrick McVey, course groomer and general manager at Lone Mountain Ranch. “Rider input, snow conditions, temperature, and decades of grooming and equine experience go into every pass we make on that course. When it’s done, it’s done right. I take a lot of pride in that.”
“Skijoring to me is goosebumps,” BSSJ Executive Director Justa Adams stated in the release. “It’s an explosive combination of lightning-fast horses and daredevil-skiing taken right to the edge. All held together by rope, guts and grit. Combine that with this amazing Big Sky venue and support of this community… We’ve got something truly unique. These elements come together to inspire and thrill in a way I’ve never experienced.”
The course is designed by Colin Cook, a former ski racer who told BSSJ that skijoring provided a “second wind” after his alpine career culminated in the Junior Olympics. In seven years, he’s won two national championships behind a horse.
“What we are doing with the Showdown, it’s a special place in time for skijoring,” Cook stated in the release. “One where we are reimagining what is possible. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to bring these ideas to life and put my signature on each course we make. It’s all thanks to the support of my team and this community.”
The snowmobile exposition will occur before the show and during halftime on both competition days. It will feature riders Keith Sayers, Willie Elam and Mike Poirier.
“We are like no other FMX Show out there,” Sayers, a Montana native, stated in the release. “The team of riders I have working with me are some of the best in the world… Not only being amazing athletes on the machines but off the machines as well.”
Tickets are on sale for $20 per day, or $35 for the two-day event.