SHERIDAN — Town by town and volunteer by volunteer, communities throughout Wyoming are working to make the state a worthwhile stop for athletes competing in Skijoring America-sanctioned events throughout the year.
Sheridan is now one of those contributing cities, but if the local event trends along with other skijoring host cities around the state, a strong economic impact and local buy-in might not be reflected in the first few years.
Pinedale added skijoring to its more than 50-year-old winter carnival when it resurrected the event in 2016, and chairwoman of Main Street Pinedale Leah Radakovich said it took until the fourth year to really nail down the art of hosting.
“In order to make it a successful skijoring event, you’ve gotta be well organized,” Radakovich said. “Keeping the competitors happy, keeping the spectators happy and everything running smoothly is huge.”
Families travel together for skijoring events throughout the country and demand excellence and organization of the sanctioned events, as some have been competing for decades. Leadville, Colorado, has been successfully hosting skijoring for decades and remains a circuit stop to emulate. Years of trial and error typically result in smoothing out glitches and perfected practice.
“I didn’t get yelled at by anybody, so that was a huge goal of mine,” Radakovich said with a laugh. “Everything really went off without a hitch; we got really lucky.”
Having efficient and reliable timing systems, enough portable restrooms and trash cans available, grandstands for spectators, race heat sheets for competitors, food vendors and proper emergency response teams on site were imperative for the success of Pinedale’s event. The big switch this year that resulted in positive feedback from the community was a bold, entertaining announcer.
Pinedale crafts its skijoring course in a field instead of downtown, so amenities were important to consider, but space for activities and parking — other than learning spectators and competitor parking should be separate — were not an issue.
Sundance does not participate in Skijoring America’s official circuit but still hosts the event for participants down its main street. The main event is also part of the broader Sundance Winter Festival, held annually since 2014.
Co-organizer Reggie Gaylord, who also owns the town’s local hardware shop, was a part of the first course-building process.
The biggest deterrent to Sundance’s event typically is cold weather. This year on the day of the event, Gaylord said temperatures only reached as high as 5 degrees — the coldest year to date — and some competitors canceled because of it. Other years showed much more participation as weather peaked at 33 degrees in years prior, which is just 4 degrees colder than the average high for February in Sundance.
The event fills hotels and keeps businesses slammed similar to Sturgis week, which serves Sundance well as it is along the route to the annual motorcycle rally host city. In addition to storefront business, local vendors and fundraisers help round out available food and item services for competitors and spectators.
The weekend of events is coordinated and carried out by a group of 25 volunteers, which Gaylord said is a solid group of dedicated servants. The town’s council members are also on board 100 percent, Gaylord said, which can make or break an event that shuts down the one main street in a town with a population of around 1,200 people. While most have had positive responses to the event, others may not.
“It’s one of those ideas that does have challenges,” Gaylord said. “There’s gonna be plenty that see the happiness or the excitement to it and there are going to be those that don’t see it and want to know why they feel like their money is even invested in it.”
Sheridan hosts its inaugural winter rodeo event this weekend. The benefit of having amenities closely available due to the event being held downtown will help eliminate worries like having enough bathrooms or close access to emergency services, as Rocky Mountain Ambulance and Sheridan Fire-Rescue Department flank each end of the course. RMA will be staged at its home base for optimal navigation through the blocked-off streets if its services are needed.
The city buy-in was nearly immediate and the backing from businesses and volunteers has been overwhelming. Sheridan WYO Rodeo board will scatter volunteers throughout the event; a polo club will bring in a WYO Rodeo favorite — cowboy polo — and numerous vendors will sell refreshments throughout the day.
Statewide economic boost
“I think Wyoming overall is a festival-driven state,” Gaylord said. “You go from your guys’ rodeo to Cheyenne Frontier Days to everything Casper pulls off and Jackson Hole’s hill climbs and the rodeo everyday in Cody. You just go around the state and that’s what generates our excitement is we’re small but we’re always going to have something fun for you to do.”
“I know that’s what Sundance is trying for and I know Sheridan’s been attempting that for a long time, too.”
Gaylord suggested everyone keep their dates for each skijoring event annually to create a non-competitive circuit loop for skijoring athletes to traverse the state and provide economic growth during the slow winter months.
Sheridan’s impact is yet to be determined, but organizers anticipate a positive boost for the city’s economy during one of the slowest months of the year.