Skijordue combines cowboy culture, downhill skiing, fashion and fondue

Skis, cheese, hooves and brews are taking over the Millarville Racetrack on Saturday for a fundraiser called Skijoredue. It’s a combination of skijoring — in which skiers are pulled behind a horse — and fondue.

Fundraising event features 150 competitors at Millarville Racetrack

Skijordue action includes horses, skis and snowboards. (Amanda Ubell)

Equestrian skills, downhill skiing and nordic traditions are taking over the Millarville Racetrack on Saturday for a fundraising event called Skijordue.

"Skijoring is being pulled behind a horse on skis or a snowboard. It originated in Norway with with reindeer. And we do it cowboy style here, with a rider up, and a skier or a boarder behind," organizer Sam Mitchell told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"Skijordue came about because I love skiing, I love riding, I have a bunch of friends who do both. And we all love fondue — and I just think there aren't enough opportunities, really, to fondue over here. And so we created one.... Eat cheese, go fast, skijoring and fondueing, it's a match made in heaven."

The event has grown every year since 2016, when Mitchell came up with the idea. This year, there will be at 150 competitors, four events, and room for 4,000 spectators.

Horsemanship, furs and fashion are an integral part of the skijordue event. (Leah Hennel)

"We have medalled ski racers coming in from Banff and Lake Louise. We have champion cowboys and cowgirls, and really good horse power. We're going to have some trick riders," Mitchell said. "It's going to be an amazing day."

Spectators get to enjoy all the competition from the stands at the Millarville Racetrack, and partake in not just fondue but a host of other goodies.

"We will have an Alpine yodelling choir performing — because you need a little bit of that Swiss flavour," Mitchell said. "We have a maker's market with art and vintage clothing, and warm gear and all the things you need, just kind of a winter festival feel, and they'll have Springbank Cheese fondue, Cobs bread …and we got our own beer."

This year, Banded Peak Brewery has created a "skijore brew" for Skijordue.

Skijordue participants are serious competitors but often display a healthy sense of humour. (Chad Rowbotham Photography)

Mitchell said she started the event as a private get together with friends, ending with fondue from the cheese everyone brought.

"I invited a couple of friends and said, you know, the entry fee was cheese, and it was just kind of a friendly play day. But 65 people crashed it, and the competition was fierce right off the line. And it just surprised the heck out of me how much people liked it, and how good they were at it," Mitchell said. "So the next year, we turned it into a fundraiser for Prairie Sky Equine Assisted Therapy."

This will be the fourth year raising money for the registered charity. Also this year, the event will raise funds for the rebuilding of the Millarville riding arena roof, which buckled under heavy snow in March of  2018.

"So it's two associations that are really close to our hearts here in our community, and we love supporting them," Mitchell said, adding that tickets are $15 online or $20 cash at the door.

Horsemanship, furs and high fashion are an integral part of the skijordue event. (Chad Rowbotham Photography)

And then there's the fashion.

"Skijore style is a thing," Mitchell said.

"So we've created a culture, and the chief factor really is to make it fun. You know, nobody takes it too seriously, and we have three awards in different categories for best dressed: Wild West, Eurotrash and Fusion. So you're going to see a lot of fringe, a lot of fur, a lot of spandex, some '80s stuff out there. I mean, it is magnificent. The crowd turns out beautifully."

For those who don't want to make the drive, there's a party bus sponsored by Ranchman's. For tickets and more information, go to Skijoredue 2020.

Skijordue takes place Saturday at the Millarville Racetrack.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.