STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
A quiet mountain town’s bid for winter excitement proved successful Saturday as Silverton’s infamous Blair Street was lined with as many as 2,000 spectators to watch the first day’s events of the fourth annual skijoring race. More events are scheduled today, starting at 11 a.m.
Silverton’s version of the Scandinavian-based sport using horses pulling skiers on a rope through a timed course down Blair Street. Skiers and riders capture orange rings and credit for collecting them, or get docked if they miss or drop them.
The sport started in the 1940s, said one of the two-day race’s chief organizers, Pete Maisel. Maisel owns the Bent Elbow Hotel, Restaurant and Saloon, the race’s headquarters, and Maisel Excavation.
Maisel said years ago, Rob Conaty, who runs the Silverton Hostel, discussed starting a skijoring event when the Durango skijoring was discontinued. They wanted to have some entertainment in the winter, he said, which generally is slower for merchants who are open then.
Janice Sanders, owner of the Old Arcade Trading Co., took the opportunity to open for the weekend, though she’s normally closed in the winter.
“I think it’s awesome,” Sanders said. “It’s exciting seeing something going on here in the winter, especially on Blair Street.”
Sanders applauded the community and the organizers who worked together to get the town ready for the event.
“It’s been so exciting seeing the town crews and volunteers” preparing Silverton for the race, she said.
Her store, known in part for it’s homemade fudge, is just a block from race headquarters.
Two of the skiers, Crystal Fankhauser and Mark Mastalski of Durango, were spending a romantic post-Valentine’s Day weekend in Silverton.
“We saw (the Silverton) skijoring two years ago,” Mastalski said. “Hopefully, I’ll be upright at the end.”
The couple backcountry ski near Silverton as well as at Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort and Wolf Creek, Fankhauser said. She said she learned to ski in Wisconsin, so she’s used to flat, icy courses.
Maisel said horses and their riders from the immediate area, as well as Mancos, Cortez, Bayfield, Farmington and Aztec competed.
Other event personnel included Laura Des Palmes and Cindy Bryant. Des Palmes said there were two classes for novice skiers and two for more-advanced skiers.
Both levels had two races each, which included a match race in which the rider and skier pair themselves up, and the “draw,” or second run, where different riders and skiers were partnered.
Each team had three runs for both the open and draw events.
Des Palmes said there is prize money for each day, split between the two days and between the team members (human only). Top team prizes Saturday were $800 for the open classes and $200 for novice classes.
Taking top honors in the Open Class were Jason Russell with Jeff Dahl riding Red Lodge at 17.74 seconds. Second place was nabbed by race co-organizer Conaty with Nic Howard riding Rowdy to a time of 18.77 seconds. Taking third place at 20.46 seconds was Calvin Hinkley being pulled by Billy Hibbler and his steed, Kelly.
In the Open Class Draw event, Dean Yeager topped out at No. 1 towed by Dahl and Red Lodge at 20.34 seconds. Calvin Hinkley with Tim McCarthy on Swagger skied to second place at 20.45 seconds, while posting third place were Sandy Young on Duke pulling Conaty.
Both Mastalski and Fankhauser did well on the first race day of their romantic weekend, being the only two skiers to finish the Novice Class, with Mastalski finishing first with rider Robin Cloar on Champ to finish at 25 seconds, and Fankhauser running with rider Richard Weber and Red taking second at 29.79 seconds. Two other teams were disqualified.
The Novice Class Draw was a faster race. Savannah McCarthy and Tank pulled Kevin Laidlaw to victory with a time of 21.91 seconds. Riding to second place at 22.39 were Weber and his horse Red towing Mastalski. In third at 23.30 seconds were Cloar on Champ and skier Baily Conaty.