WEST YELLOWSTONE — 83 teams flocked to West Yellowstone on Saturday for the final Skijor race of the year, the USA National Championship.
And being in the home state is definitely an advantage for Montanans.
“It’s awesome I love it,” Great Falls native James Rowen said. “It’s only a four and a half drive for me being from Great Falls. I love it, it’s good.”
The track for this race was a strait that was roughly 700-900 feet from start to finish. The race time is measured from when the skier passes through the gate at the beginning and at the end. For Rowan, it’s a lot of fun. For others it is a living, but either way, everyone has winning on their mind.
“I’m not the greatest skier, I’m OK,” Rowan admitted, “but you never know, this is kind of a horse race when it’s straight like this, so as long as I can stay behind the rope and do it.”
In skijoring, the horse and rider are the speed, but there is a lot of work that the skier must do to maintain a fast time.
“So the speed comes from us but the rope work also aids in a better time,” Audrey Williams of Bitterroot said. “If you’re hanging in the back of the line, your time is going to be slower, so it really is a team effort.”
And the uniqueness of the national competition comes from the relationships between the skier, rider, and horse. Some athletes show up without one of those things, while some teams have been training for years.
“This next horse is going to be my first time, actually, all but one of these horses are new to me,” Rowan said.
“Sometimes you find skiers at registration and you’re just like ‘hey lets give it a whirl,’ and if it’s something you guys like, you just keep going and keep practicing,” Williams added. “Every race, no matter, you don’t give up on each other.”
And while Saturday was only Day 1 of competition, sometimes the best moments had nothing to do with winning.
“My favorite part is when he does his best,” Williams said, referring to her horse Captain Jack, “I don’t care what the clock says.”
“Yes, winning money and taking checks home is great and wearing that belt buckle with pride, but watching him give his all for me is by far my favorite part of this sport,” she finished.