Skijoring Tradition Lives on in Whitefish

By Beacon Staff

Whitefish is a town of lively traditions.

The annual World Skijoring Championships are a hallmark example. The two-day event reflects both the town’s identity and its residents’ propensity for fun. Horses pulling skiers seems to fit right in with the winter landscape.

“This event is uniquely Montana and uniquely Flathead Valley because it combines the cowboy-horse heritage of this state along with the ski heritage of Whitefish,” said Tom Britz, chairman of the event’s volunteer organization committee.

The Whitefish Winter Carnival officially kicked off recently and with that comes the excitement surrounding the popular skijoring competition. Last year’s event drew more than 4,000 spectators and almost 90 teams.

“It’s kind of become the biggest party on snow as this thing has grown over the years,” Britz said.

This year’s competition is Jan. 28-29 at the Whitefish Municipal Airport on East Second Street. A “registration party” will be held at the Black Star Draught House from 6 to 9 p.m. on Jan. 27. The awards party will conclude the festivities at Craggy Range starting at 5 p.m. on Jan. 29. Admission to all competitions is free but parking on site will cost $5 and benefit Human Therapy on Horseback, a nonprofit organization in Kalispell that helps individuals with physical, mental or emotional conditions benefit from therapy on horseback.

There are four separate classes of skijoring this year – open, sport, Great Northern novice and Black Star mule, plus the Murdoch’s long jump competition. The Black Star mule class is the newest addition to the event, with the winner being crowned “the Best Ass in the World.”

“It’s perfectly appropriate and fitting for the whole philosophy behind the World Skijoring Championships,” Britz said. “If you can’t have fun, why are we doing this?”

Organizers are predicting this year’s total purse will be worth more than $20,000, which will be awarded in portions to the top five placers in each event. Spectators will have a shot at bringing home cash with the Calcutta auction where skijoring teams will be bid on similar to a horse-racing event.

Britz expects this year’s “family friendly event” to follow step with the rich tradition that reemerged in 2002 after a 20-year hiatus.

“There is a lot of excitement going into this year’s event,” Britz said. “We’re trying to build on the success that we had last year and firmly establishing this as the world skijoring championship.”

For more information visit www.whitefishskijoring.com

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