The object of the exercise is to eat cheese and go fast.

"No, seriously," insists Sam Mitchell.

She organizes an annual charity fundraiser event called Skijordue, which pits horse-drawn skiers against each other in a series of speed and obstacle course challenges, with plenty of gooey cheese-eating in between.

The event gets its name from the words fondue and skijoring, a Norwegian sport in which a person on skis is pulled by a horse, dog or motor vehicle.

"We love fondue, we love skiing, we love riding, we love speed and we love great parties," said Mitchell. "So we put all those things together into a big mash, and Skijordue was born."

The eclectic mashup began as a private event in Okotoks, located 45 kilometres south of Calgary. The entry fee was cheese. Twelve people were invited to participate that first year, but word spread and 65 showed up.

Hundreds of people are expected to turn out for this year's four-event competition, which features a circuit race, relay, sprint and long jump. 

Fully outfitted cowboys and cowgirls ride horses wearing special shoes, racing at speeds of up to 65 km/h as they tow adrenaline-seeking skiers down the obstacle-strewn tracks.

"These horses are going top speed. We don't hold anything back," Mitchell said.

Growing the sport

Mitchell, who co-founded Skijor Canada with her husband, said the sport is gaining traction across Canada, and she wants to do everything she can to help.

"That's why we founded Skijor Canada — to give other communities a turn-key solution to an event. If you want to run a Skijor event, give us a call."

Her organization offers to share templates, rules and regulations, course-building specifications and even recommendations for insurance brokers.

"All the things that were hard for us to figure out we're trying to make easy for other people so that we can grow this sport."

The 2018 competition takes place Saturday, Feb. 3, at the Calgary Polo Club in Okotoks.

With files from Monty Kruger