People from around the Mountain West gathered in Idaho’s Teton Valley over the weekend to watch skijoring, a sport that unites western cowboy culture with the outside ski culture.
As the sounds of Dolly Parton and Johny Cash played in the background, some attendees wore puffy jackets, while others wore fur chaps and cowboy hats. They all seemed to be enjoying the sunny Saturday.
“A lot of people ask me what do you do in Idaho in the winter time — here you go,” one attendee, Richard Primo, said. “What could be better than being out here in the beautiful sun with the Tetons background.”
Primo traveled from Idaho Falls to watch the races, where competitors enter in teams of two: one rides the horse, while the other gets pulled on skis or a snowboard behind the horse around a race course.
Another attendee, Shelly Bradford from Rigby, Idaho, said that — as a horse owner — she’s dabbled in the sport. She described it as “something close to death.”
“You don’t know what’s going to happen,” she added.
Competitors can reach speeds up to 40 miles per hour, going over jumps and around gates.
Around 150 people entered the race. Many were new to the sport but saw the event as an opportunity to give it a try.
One of them, Victor resident Michael Gardner, is a professional alpinist and former pro-skier. He described the sport as “jarring.”
“I’ve been skiing my whole life and doing it professionally, but there’s nothing like this,” he said.
Luckily, Gardner was towed around the slalom-like course by someone with experience — Pinedale resident John Hyde and his horse, Otis.
“Horses are my life,” Hyde said. “They eat before we do.”
Hyde runs a skijoring event in Pinedale and attends similar events around the Mountain West. He said they are opportunities to see friends from Colorado and Montana during the winter, a time when there aren’t traditional rodeos.
He said he tries to make the sport accessible for newcomers.
“I have a lot of people coming up that’ve never done it, ask me if I’d pull them and I show them the ropes,” he said. “Next thing you know, they’re hooked.”
This was the first time in seven years that skijoring has come to the western side of the Tetons. The sport used to be part of the valley’s Great Snow Fest but was suspended due to safety concerns.
Now, its return makes Driggs a stop for athletes on a circuit of events around the Mountain West.
Event director Elliott Paull said it’s also an opportunity to bring more visitors to the valley.
“We’re getting past all the holiday weekends here in the winter time,” Paull said. “This actually just gives another reason to come visit this area and drive the local small businesses and just bring out the community and have a good time for a winter showdown.”
It wasn’t just former pro skiers competing in the event. Seven-year-olds Jude and Jeremiah Johnson competed in the junior category. Their dad, Wade, said they’d been training down where they live in Alpine.
“We’ve been pulling them with a four wheeler and a snowmobile,” he said. “We practiced yesterday behind horses.”
When asked about the race, Jude gave a big thumbs up. Jeramiah said it was fun, but admits he was a little out of his comfort zone.
“I was scared,” he said. “I felt like I was going to fall and just lose, but I did it.”
The Johnson twins ended up taking home third place in their category on Saturday.
Additional reporting for this story came from KHOL contributor Kyle Mackie.