SHERIDAN — Rome wasn’t built in a day, but with enough help, heart, and snow, a skijoring course nearly can be.
Sheridan experienced that speedy construction Thursday, when LJS Construction owner J.B. Skinner donated equipment, crews and time to craft the raceway for Sheridan’s inaugural skijoring event. While the course itself was laid throughout the day Thursday and jumps added Friday, the preparation before construction took hours of studying rule books and a lot of number crunching.
Throughout the past year, Hanns Mercer — who sparked the flame that Sheridan Travel and Tourism’s Shawn Parker stoked to create the first-ever Sheridan WYO Winter Rodeo weekend — has been racing on courses in Wyoming and Montana and poring over a 27-page handbook detailing the exact requirements for a legal course under the Skijoring America regulations.
Mercer, who works for the city of Sheridan as its lead engineer, drew up plans for the course and sent it to Skijoring America for approval. Once approved, Mercer and Parker went to work crafting a weekend of activities around the pinnacle event, skijoring.
LJS Construction crews began dumping loads of the total 3,000 cubic yards of snow on the north end of Broadway Street Thursday morning. Dump trucks transferred snow from the former Central School site south of the Whitney Rink at the M&M Center to Broadway, where bulldozers would adjust the piles into smoother track, to be packed down and perfected Friday.
Large berms were created at each end of Broadway to signify the beginning and end points of the track. For the sake of competitors, bales of hay also mark the end of the path near Grinnell Street.
Track features can be, but are not limited to, jumps, rollers, bank turns and rings, according to the official handbook. Features are only limited to the track designer’s imagination and the ability to build them.
Skijoring rules allow for jumps 3- to 6-feet high with a flat top and a ramp that is not too steep. Rings are another common aspect of skijoring paths, and the planning team made sure to keep it local by creating rings out of rope from King’s Saddlery, King Ropes.
Skijoring can be completed in a few different ways, but SJA recognizes skiers being pulled by horses as the primary version of the sport. Other versions include skiers being pulled by dogs or motor vehicles. The word itself derives from the Norwegian word for ski driving, skikjøring.
The marriage of strong equestrian and skiing talent found in Sheridan is what initially compelled STT and Mercer to bring it to the city.
“Sheridan is a unique community with a lot of equestrian interest and we have a lot of ski interest,” Mercer said. “…It makes up a large portion of our community.”
Skiers are pulled behind a horse of any breed and rider, but “horses should be in physical shape to participate in an extreme sport,” according to the handbook. The skier holds onto the other end of a rope attached on the saddle horn of the rider or behind the saddle. The rope cannot exceed 33 feet in length, must be at least three-eighths inches in diameter and cannot be looped or include a handle of any kind.
Mercer said some skiers use rubber gloves to help hold the rope throughout the run, but he prefers slightly wetted deerskin gloves for his official dress. Timing is calculated by the skier’s body, so the skier moving past the timing equipment provided by Skijoring America is imperative for a better score. Scoring is also based on how the skier completes each aspect of the course, which Mercer said was created with the hopes of an 80 percent success rate for competitors.
Sheridan’s event will include an announcer who, in Mercer’s opinion, will bring flavor to the event with music and updated rankings throughout the day.
While skijoring is the featured event for the weekend, a host of other activities and opportunities await participants and spectators of the sport.
Multiple food vendors will be stationed on either end of the course, with Luminous Brewhouse and Black Tooth Brewing Company anchoring each end of the racetrack. Live music will follow Friday’s registration at Black Tooth, which Mercer said is where he typically pairs up with a puller before the next day’s race.
Friday registrations are where friendships are developed and teams are formed, Mercer said.
A local polo club will conduct cowboy polo following the races while the scores are being tallied. Winners of skijoring events receive belt buckles and official WYO Rodeo vests. WYO Rodeo Board members have also offered their time to volunteer throughout the day.
Despite alcohol establishments anchoring the race track, both breweries and several other vendors will provide drink options for all ages, like hot cocoa. No open containers will be allowed past a certain point around the breweries. Another draw for families is a snow pile on both ends of the course.
“Every event I go to to compete, the kids are attracted to a pile of snow and they’ll play on it all day long,” Mercer said. “So we’re going to provide that same fun for them.”
Following the main event day, families are invited to ski and sled on Red Grade Trails starting at 10 a.m.
Weather.com predicts mostly cloudy skies with a high of 32 degrees and a low of 3 degrees. It also predicts a 20 percent chance of precipitation. Sunday’s high is 9 degrees, with a low of -4 and a 50 percent chance of snow showers.