SILVERTON – Anyone who moseyed past Blaire Street on Sunday was in for a mighty good show.
Despite the cold and snow, plenty of people turned out for the second day of Silverton’s third annual Skijoring Festival.
Sunshine and blue skies Saturday drew an even larger crowd, said Laura Des Palmes, a spokeswoman for the festival and one of many volunteers who help put it on each year.
“The restaurants killed Saturday,” she said.
The growing festival gives the historic old mining town’s businesses a nice winter boost, filling hotels and restaurants for the Presidents Day weekend, said Pete Maisel, event coordinator and owner of the Bent Elbow Hotel and Restaurant, which served as event headquarters.
“It’s just unbelievable for Silverton, for a winter event,” Maisel said.
Skijoring teams horseback riders’ Wild West know-how with skiers’ and snowboarders’ skills on the slopes in a competition in which horses race through town, towing skiers over a snowy course full of jumps as they joust for rings.
“Nothing’s faster than a horse that first 50 or 100 feet,” said Jeff Dahl, a contractor in Durango and longtime skijorer who competes in the sport with his two sons Greg and Jason Dahl.
The Silverton Skijoring festival includes an amateur division and an open class for more experienced riders, Des Palmes said.
Many of the horses in the open competition come from the race track, said former skijorer Dave Pleasant while showing a tattoo on the upper lip of Dahl’s 19-year-old horse, Red Lodge, from his race days.
Horses like Red Lodge pull the skiers from 35 to 40 mph, and, because the skiers move side to side and over jumps through the course, they go even faster, Dahl said.
“This is an addicting, addicting sport,” said Mike Healey of Durango, who skied in the competition for the second time this year.
While veterans like Dahl are happy to help skiers and riders get into the sport, there’s no easy way to practice, so for some competitors the first time they try skijoring is during the race.
That was the case for Ryan Lee, who said he would definitely come back next year despite busting a knuckle.
“It’s fun, but I could have gone without falling,” said second-timer Calvin Hinkley.
Judges take the teams’ overall times and adjust them, adding one second for each ring or gate the skiers miss. This year, the skijoring committee added a bonus ring for the riders, Des Palmes said. The bonus ring shaves one second from a team’s overall time.
“My husband thought it was going to be really cool, but he can’t see the ring. He keeps missing it,” said Andrea McCarthy, joking about her husband, Tim McCarthy. McCarthy’s daughters, Jade Neves and Savannah McCarthy, also rode this year.
After the competition, participants and volunteers crowded the Bent Elbow to warm during the awards ceremony. Teams won cash prizes, T-shirts and even custom horse reins.
“You get all the cowboys and hippies together,” Healey said, laughing. “We always say it’s the one time you can get ’em in the same bar without fighting.”