Betty Diaries: Cowboys and angels |

Betty Diaries: Cowboys and angels

You just can’t keep a good cowgirl — or skier or Utahn — down

Kate Sonnick

How Utah can you get? Oh my heck, I don’t mean those five-ounce Chardonnay pours, Stanley tumblers or Pioneer Day. Those might be the rill-dill Utah to some. But for me, it’s that annual mash-up of our proud ski heritage and our wild-wild-west, rootin’-tootin’ roots. Not to mention chaps. Lots and lots of fringed-suede cowboy chaps.

I’m talking about skijoring.

The origins of skijoring can be traced back hundreds of years to Scandinavia. Back then, skikjøring, or ski-driving, was the most reliable way to traverse miles and miles of snowy hinterland. Who needs a Chevy Tahoe with Blizzaks when you’ve got a reindeer pulling you on a pair of waxed sticks strapped to your boots? The preferred mode of travel for Nordic types was eventually appropriated as a recreational activity by the French and Swiss. It was also readily adopted by Alaskans who preferred their trusty malamutes to reindeer when it comes to transportation.

Skijoring eventually made its way to the American west as a competitive sport in the early-to-middle part of the last century. Cowboys threw a long rope over the saddle horn of a horse while towing skiers at breakneck speeds. The skiers did their best to hang on for dear life. These days, there’s a movement to include equine skijoring in the 2030 Olympic games should they be awarded to Salt Lake City. (Fingers crossed.)

Flash forward to our own local version of the competition which is held annually by Utah Skijoring. Two-person teams like “Save a Horse, Ride a Skier,” “Ski Biscuit” and “Don’t Worry, My Mom’s a Doctor,” include amateur newbies as well as seasoned pros. You’re as likely to find a tiny grom in a pink tutu as you are a galloping geezer. Riders pull the skier around a course and over jumps as fast as they can. Skiers attempt to catch air on the ramps while grabbing plastic rings.

Since I moved out here the winter before the pandemic, it’s been my tradition to attend the skijoring event, typically held in late January. You never forget your first. Back in 2020, it was held at Soldier Hollow. It was just after sunset as we approached the course. A flimsy fence covered with vinyl sponsor banners was all that stood between us and the thundering hooves. I stood transfixed as a majestic gray quarterhorse galloped by. Atop the horse was a cowboy who looked like he just rode in from the TV series Yellowstone. Flying behind them was a 20-something skier in an electric-blue-and-neon-green jacket, frantically reining in and letting out a long, thick rope and flying over snowy ramps. I wondered how long the guy could hang on without pulling his arms out of their sockets.

This year’s event was held this past weekend at the Wasatch County Events Center in Heber City. My friend managed to score a VIP tent right in the middle of the action. And when I say the middle of the action, I mean there was a four-foot mound directly in front of our tent and two tall, angled poles on top of that which held the rings.

There was a young volunteer named Katie posted up on the mound. Her job was to reattach the magnetic rings after they were either grabbed or knocked off the poles. We jokingly asked her what the odds were that a rider could accidentally jump the track and careen into our tent. “The odds are pretty good,” she said, her voice as flat as a poker chip.

I pondered that possibility for a moment until I heard someone in the tent gasp. I turned and saw my friend frozen in place, the turkey sandwich she held suspended in mid-air as she stared into the distance. “Look at that,” she said gesturing her sandwich toward the course. I looked out onto the course and there he was. A cowboy to end all cowboys, tall in the saddle and backlit by the thickly clouded afternoon sky. It wasn’t just that he looked as cool as Clint Eastwood or as ripped as Ryan Reynolds. It was mostly the chaps. The silvery-gray fur chaps. Everyone in the tent turned to look as he casually trotted past in cinematic slo-mo, oblivious to the sensation he was causing in the VIP tent.

A few moments later, a brown horse came flying around the turn carrying a beautiful young rider with flowing, jet-black hair, their skier trailing closely behind. Suddenly, the horse slipped on the slick, frozen snow, falling and throwing the young woman onto the ground. We held our breath, but she and the horse popped right back up. The rider dusted herself off, and in one, graceful move, swooped back onto her horse. The skier grabbed onto the rope and off they sailed across the glittering snow.

We all clapped and let out a sigh of relief, the very best of our special magic swirling right before our eyes. You just can’t keep a good cowgirl — or skier or Utahn — down.


See more

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Park City and Summit County make the Park Record's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.