“Lets get weird.” It is a statement you hear from the best of the fringe; hessians, ruffians, goths, hipsters. Whether it be a silly outfit or a asinine dare, we all get weird sometimes. Cowboys, on the other hand, are more known for their down home normality. They eat steak and potatoes, they fear god, they have good family values. Then again, every once in a while, they like to get weird too. Each March in Leadville, Colorado, skiers and cowboys (or cowgirls) team up, tie a long rope to a saddle and tow a skier down main street Leadville at high speed. The streets are lined with spectators banging on cowbells, cheering, hooting and hollering as the duos make their way from one end of main street to the other, slaloming their way through a course that gives even the best skiers a run for their money. Welcome to the sport of ski joring.
As if simply navigating the course wasn’t enough, the skiers follow behind the galloping horse maneuvering back and forth between large jumps, stands with rings they have to catch on their arms, and gates they have to ski through. The combination of speed and a point system sets the stage for a competition like nothing you have ever seen before. At a slower speed this course would not be all too difficult, but when the horse is going all out and the skiers are working hard to simply not fall down, it’s amazing they somehow manage to catch the rings and hit the jumps.
It seems like it should be a piece of cake for the riders, but the rope is attached to the saddle, so they get jerked all over the place as the skier turns back and forth. In some cases even the riders get tossed. When I was there on a Sunday, one of the riders was thrown from the saddle pretty hard and the action came to a halt with the paramedics moving in for help. The rider was okay and the action resumed.
One of the best parts about Leadville Colorado is that there is so much more to do than just watch ski joring. Even if the action stops or the joring gets boring, just a view down Main street presents an incredible amount of history. The Tabor Opera house was the largest opera house west of the Mississippi through the 1800s and across the street is the saloon where Doc Holiday had his last gunfight. The stores lining main street are full of pieces of history like old revolvers used during the gold rush.
At 10,152 ft. (3094m), Leadville is the highest town in North America. So whether it is ski joring, gold rush history, old cowboy bars, or a town with the most museums per capita in the USA, the humble town of Leadville is worth a visit while passing through the rocky mountains. Just get ready, a walk down main street will wind you with the lack of oxygen… but the plus side is that your golf ball will fly 10% farther than at sea level.