In the mid-1970s, Whitefish’s beloved Winter Carnival got just a little too wild — at least for the local insurance man.
Since the inaugural festival back in 1959, the Whitefish Winter Carnival had gathered a roster of popular events including street broom hockey, snowmobile jumping, the Great Bar to Bar Snowshoe Race and, of course, skijoring. All of it took place right in downtown Whitefish on Central Avenue.
But after one too many injuries — including an instance where a competitor nearly went through the front window of the Toggery in downtown Whitefish — the carnival’s insurance man said no more. The snowmobile jumps, broom hockey and skijoring had to go, and while the carnival was still fun after that, it just wasn’t quiet the same.
In 2003, a local businessman, Scott Ping, led an effort to bring skijoring back, and since then the sport has once again been a highlight of Whitefish’s winter calendar. This year’s event takes place on Jan. 25-26 at the Big Mountain Ranch east of Whitefish.
“Skijoring combines two things all Montanans love: horseback riding and skiing,” says Ted Valentiner, one of the organizers of the Whitefish World Invitational Skijoring event, home to the sport’s “world championship.”
Skijoring started in Europe and made its way to North America in the early 20th century. A team is made up of a horse, a rider and a skier. The horse drags the skier around a course with jumps and turns. In order to score points, the skier has to grab a number of hanging rings.
For years, the event was held out near the Whitefish airport, but after wear and tear accumulated on the ground, it was moved to Big Mountain Ranch, owned by Johnny Shockey and home to the Under The Big Sky music festival. This will be the third year skijoring has been hosted at the ranch, and Valentiner said the organizers couldn’t be happier with the spot.
“Johnny Shockey has been so generous to provide us with such a fantastic venue,” he says. “It’s a beautiful setting and there’s plenty of parking.”
Skijoring is a sport that requires a lot of snow, and as the Beacon was going to print, it looked as if there would plenty for the event. Last month, a different skijoring event at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell had to be canceled because of a lack of snow. Valentiner said the only reason too much snow might be bad is because it would complicate parking, but it didn’t appear that would be an issue this year.
As always, the event will feature food and beer vendors. Festivities kick off on Friday, Jan. 24, with a registration event at Grouse Mountain Lodge from 6 to 7 p.m. with music by John Dunnigan. The opening ceremony is at 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 25 and racing begins at noon. Racing continues on Sunday before an award ceremony at the Great Northern Bar that evening.
For more information, visit whitefishskijoring.com.