WHITEFISH - With snow on the ground everywhere just about all outdoor sports are on hold for the winter, one Montana sport is just getting started as skijoring is preparing for its first big event of the year at the end of January.
Skijoring is a winter sport in which a person on skis is pulled by a horse, a dog or a motor vehicle.
"I would say it’s rodeo meets water skiing meets downhill ski-racing, all combined into one," said ten-year skijoring competitor Leah Mitchell. "And we call it the Montana extreme winter event."
It is an extreme event that continues to grow year in and year out.
"You know I think it started as like kind of a backyard thing, grab the horses out of the paddock that you have that are trail horses, that are western horses and go and run," said Mitchell. "[Now] It’s to where people are actually purchasing off-the-track thoroughbred race horses to just raise the bar of the competition higher and higher."
And while the skiing and riding the horses provides all the thrills, there’s much more to the sport.
"To be honest the number one thing for me is the people, we have such a tight-knit family in skijoring," said fellow competitor Kristen Macasek. "You go to one race, you see the same people, but it’s like you haven’t seen them in a year and you just have to catch up all over again, it’s just so much fun."
Skijoring means community, but even more than that — family.
"I ended up racing behind my mom," said 27-year-old Dave Rizzolo. "She was the one that got started doing it and then the next year she was like, ‘I don’t have skier so would you be down to ski,’ so that’s how I got into it and me and her have been doing it ever since."
And after competing for the past eight years, Rizzolo only continues to see the community grow every season.
"More, more, more and more people, and it’s just great to see it right," said Rizzolo with a smile. "You wanna get more and more people involved as much as you can to grow the sport and we love doing it."
While the extremeness of the sport can seem intimidating, Scott Ping, often called the godfather of skijoring, is adamant anyone can participate.
"I’ve had people come out here that have never done the sport before and win the novice division and they just got into it," said Ping. "They love it, they can’t stop doing it just like me, and they end up being successful."
Competitors of all levels will have the chance to race at the end of this month for the annual Whitefish skijoring event.
"We have world-class skiers coming, we have world-class horsemen coming, and it’ll really be something to watch," said Ping. "If you haven’t seen skijoring before, it’s something that you’ll remember for the rest of your life."