Shovel Racing and Other Extreme Winter Sports

When it comes to winter sports, skiing, snowboarding, and ice hockey seem to be the dominant forces on the Colorado College campus. Many students, and the public in general, are unaware of some of the more “out there” winter sports, which you can find as close to campus as Leadville, Colo.

Photo by Austin Halpern

The first of many lesser-known winter sports is ice sailing. This is more or less exactly what you would expect—using a sail and the wind to race across a frozen body of water. Competitors wear a snowboard, skis, or ice skates while holding a large sail. There are three disciplines of ice sailing marked by the use of different sails: wings, kites, and sleds. While there are competitions throughout the U.S., it is more common in Sweden, Norway, Germany, and Austria.

Skijoring, another unique winter sport, combines snow and water skiing by using animals—usually dogs, but sometimes horses—to pull skiers through the snow. The animals are strapped into a harness that is connected to the skier via a nine-foot waist belt. The real challenge in this sport is training your dog to understand the basic commands of skijoring: when to pull and when to turn. There are yearly competitions in Leadville where competitors skijor with horses. In the horse variation of this discipline, there is a rider on the horse and a skier/snowboarder attached to the horse. The horse runs down a snowy, typically flat, slope while the skier goes off jumps. This year’s Leadville skijoring competition will take place on March 3 and 4.

In Canada and the Northern U.S., trail ice skating is popular. In an effort to combine ice skating and hiking, mountain trails are frozen over and people ice skate on them. In Parker, Colo. there is a more urbanized version of this winter sport, which takes place on a man-made ice skating loop trail. The sport is supposed to allow people to ice skate through nature, but loops like the one in Parker and the more well-known skating ribbon in Grant Park, Chicago offer a break from traditional ice skating.

The final, and arguably most dangerous, alternative winter sport is shovel racing. Popularized by ski resort workers in New Mexico in the 1970s, people sit on shovels instead of sleds, with the handle of the shovel between their legs. Reaching speeds of up to 70 miles per hour and being only inches from the snow, shovel racing is for real thrill-seekers only. A modified version of shovel racing, in which competitors raced in cars mounted on skis, was banned from the X Games for being too extreme after a crash left a man with a cracked sternum, bruised heart, and other painful injuries. Shovel racing competitions are still held annually at Angel Fire Resort in New Mexico. This year’s competition is taking place on Feb. 2 and 3.

With the coldest months of the year fast approaching, a motivating factor for going outside is that there are so many exciting winter sports to participate in. Sports like shovel racing might not be for everyone, but there are countless other ways to appreciate the outdoors in the snow. 

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