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On display: The West, old and new

Skijoring brings horses and skis together for one ‘scary’ ride

Silverton is known for its remote location among the soaring peaks of the San Juan Mountains. It has a mining heritage, a budding extreme-skier destination and a summer tourist retail bonanza; but during the winter, things slow a bit.

At some point in time, somebody thought it would a good time to host skijoring.

It sort of looks like water skiing – behind a horse – on snow. Put a cowboy or cowgirl on a steed, drag behind a skier who grabs rings off posts in between sailing off jumps made of snow. It’s super safe, and the fastest team wins. That’s skijoring, and people come from all over to take it on – or take it all in.

“It’s scary,” Sterling Bommarito said. “But, man, it’s a blast.”

Bommarito, a first-time skijoring racer, said he’s been a horse person all of his life and has always loved to ski.

“It’s exhilarating,” he said after a run down Silverton’s Blair Street, lined with more than a thousand people cheering him on.

For him, the scary part is getting started. Then, the adrenaline takes over.

“You’re standing there, waiting for that horse, and they come in all hot and heavy and wanting to go. It’s awesome,” he said.

The town’s sixth annual skijoring event shows it to be taking root. Organizers estimated some 2,500 people made it out over the weekend. They provided a welcome economic boost amid slow winter sales.

For skijoring, the townsfolk stockpiled snow for the 25 teams.

Laura Despalmes has been working behind the scenes for four years. While the numbers are still a little fuzzy, she said Silverton was overflowing.

“The restaurants and bars were full yesterday afternoon and night,” she said on Sunday from event headquarters, The Bent Elbow. “Hotels have been booked solid for a couple of weeks.”

Saturday’s 55-degree temperatures brought out a bigger crowd, but the only town in San Juan County was bustling despite Sunday’s cooler weather.

Across the saloon, Capt. Dave Zanoni and other members of the Silverton Fire Department were serving their signature margaritas and raising funds for their well-known fireworks display. On an earlier supply run, he said he noticed a lack of parking spaces – rather rare in Silverton during February.

“A parking issue is a nice thing to have,” he said. “It means that money is being spent. This is huge.”

Zanoni, who is also a town councilor, said Silverton firefighters raised about $3,000 from last year’s margarita sales.

“It’s always a good shot in the arm for us,” he said.

After emceeing the event for two days, Bill Caudle called it a success. He said plenty of first-time spectators and racers showed up this year.

“I know for a fact that next year we’re getting bigger sponsors,” he said. “Here you have skiers and cowboys, and all other sorts. And everybody is getting along.”

bmathis@durangoherald.com

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