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Skiers, cowboys, horses enjoy first skijoring national championship held in Jackson Hole.
By Miller N. Resor, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: February 27, 2013
Saturday morning was grey, and the packed snow on the race course was rutted and icy.
Racers signing up for the first Jackson Hole Ski Joring races presented by the Jackson Hole Shrine Club — and first North American Ski Joring Championships to be held in Jackson — crossed the speedway near Melody Ranch with trepidation. Five- to 6-foot-high jumps loomed on both sides of the narrow gauntlet.
A week before, pairs of cutter horses towing chariots had been released from gates on the far end of the track, leaving billowing tornadoes of snow smoke in their trail. This week it was the skiers’ turn.
The skijoring event paired barrel racers, team ropers and race horses with thrill seekers, daredevils and ski racers. In a slight concession to keeping the craziness under control, they raced against the clock, not each other.
Barreling out of the starting chute and down the center of the track, horses pulled skiers who had to navigate gates and soar over jumps without letting go of the rope attached to the horse. The fastest skier across the finish line won.
Some teams arrived with both riders and skiers, but many met their teammates the night before at the registration party at the Elks Lodge or on the morning of the race, when they taped a flyer to the side of the motor home where racers registered.
Nervous excitement was palpable along the sidelines and among waiting competitors. As first-time competitors watched the opening races Saturday, some must have wondered if their decision to sign up had been a good idea.
In an early race, a skier was pulled sideways off the second jump and fell on his side, shattering his clavicle and breaking his ribs.
A little later, a horse that had lost its skier ran up the third and final jump as the rider struggled to rein it in. As he hit the softer snow, the horse postholed and reared up in front of spectators before backing down from the lip of the jump.
Speeds increased as the open division, full of faster horses and more experienced skiers, got under way. Spirited horses pranced dangerously in the starting gate as race organizers attached ropes to saddles with carabiners and handed the other ends to skiers waiting at the far end of the gate.
The skiers wrapped the rope around their hands and, with a “hee-yah” or a simple nod exchanged between rider and skier, the horses broke from the gate, pulling the skier through the infrared beam of the timing system and onto the race course.
The fastest skiers used racing skis to carve sharp turns between gates and off the three jumps, but, without a fast horse, they might as well have been using powder skis.
Christian Cisco, a Jackson-raised ski racer who started skijoring several years ago, posted the fastest times Saturday and Sunday in the open division and won the cumulative event.
Cisco was pulled by Scott Ping and his horse Kona, from Whitefish, Mont. Last year, Ping and Kona pulled former U.S. Ski Team racer Cody Smith to the 2012 North American Championship.
Ping said Kona, an appendix quarter horse, is consistently the horse to beat in the North American Ski Joring Association, which Ping helped start in 1999 in Jackson Hole.
Christian Cisco’s brother, Aaron Cisco, who was pulled by Jackson native Ryan Lakovitch, finished second both days to take second overall in the open division. Lakovitch, the owner of Wolverine Creek Outfitters, rode Hawkeye.
Dan VanDermeulen, another former professional ski racer, was pulled to third on Saturday by Casey Meggers on Gray Mare. He put together fourth- and fifth-place runs with Harlee Manning on Belle to beat himself out for third place overall.
In the draw pot division, where horses and riders were randomly paired with skiers, Pete Jenkins, a perennial top finisher in the Town Downhill, hung on to Russell Pandina’s horse Blue, a wild quarter horse that took off like a lightening bolt to win both days and overall.
Christian Cisco teamed up with Sydney Pandina’s horse Beauty to take fourth Saturday, second Sunday and second overall.
Dressed in patriotic attire, Logan Carter, another Jackson resident who raced for the Jackson Hole Ski Club, held on to Faith Taylor’s horse Star to take third overall.
As prize money was distributed and competitors shared smiles and beers in the waning light of a beautiful Sunday, talk turned to future plans for the Jackson Hole Ski Joring races. All agreed skijoring, the pinnacle of Wyoming sport, was here to stay.