Planks & Ponies

The national skijoring finals return to Red Lodge.  

During winter, when cheeks are chapped and fingers numb from shredding high-alpine slopes, there’s a special kind of sport that’s getting folks outside in a unique way—skijoring. If you saw the herds of people gathered in January at Gallatin Regional Park and fast horses galloping down a snow track with skiers in tow, you caught a glimpse of the Duckworth Classic skijoring competition. Riders came with horses from all over the country and pulled skiers on the course over jumps, around gates, and past rings. Spectators drank beer—or cocoa—and cheered in a weekend that epitomized the often-rowdy culture of skijoring. This year, the National Finals are coming to Red Lodge and it promises to be a heck of a good time. Here’s what to expect. 

Skijoring, Red Lodge, Montana                                                                                Skijoring: if you haven't experienced it yet, now's the time.

Kristen Beck, newly appointed race director for the National Finals race, says that historically, the Red Lodge event is the last stop on the circuit, as it’s hosted the second weekend in March. In the style of a classic ’jor, the races are spread out over the weekend and offer up three levels of competition: women’s, sport, and open, as well as a bonus long-jump category and a juniors division. The registration party will be held on Friday, the 10th at 6pm at the Lucky Strike in Red Lodge, and races start at noon—sharp—both Saturday and Sunday.

This year in Red Lodge, skiers will be challenged with gates and sizeable jumps and will race for the fastest time of the day and fastest combined time. There will be a preliminary round of races on Saturday, followed by a Calcutta—a fundraising bet placed on a given team—in true skijor spirit. The public is welcome to join the teams and organizers at the Bull & Bear Saloon in Red Lodge, where participating teams are bet on in an energetic auction. Wagers are based on the current day’s performance and any previous stats the team may have, but the payout is dependent on Sunday’s competition.

Guaranteed to be a good time, the National Finals will focus on safety all around, but the organizers are taking extra measures to ensure that the horses and riders avoid injury by having good footing. The track is laid out in a horseshoe shape, giving the horse-and-rider pair a separate track to run on than the skiers. Much like downhill skiing, the track is carefully groomed and conditions monitored to avoid injury on the slick surface.

As if watching horses gallop through snow and skiers eating powder isn’t enough fun on its own, Beck says we can anticipate lots of family activities, as well. There will be a high-stakes, heated stick-horse race for kids. Each stick-horse will represent one of six local charities and will be auctioned off at the Saturday Calcutta with the proceeds going to each elected charity. There’s rumor of a hot-chocolate-and-s’mores station—complete with a fire pit to keep toasty—and a possible chili cook-off, so come hungry. 

The weekend will wrap up with an awards ceremony at Foster & Logan’s Pub with serious prizes ranging from belt-buckles to a breeder certificate for a Montana colt, and cash purses divvied out among the victors.

If you’re interested in attending or competing, visit The races will be held at the Red Lodge rodeo grounds, and bring your skis, since Red Lodge Ski Mountain is only ten minutes away.