Grainy black-and-white photos of skiing in glamorous Gstaad during the 1940s and 50s often portray some aggressively brash styles considering the technology of the day: laminated wood planks with un-releasable Kandahar bindings, leather-basketed bamboo poles.
These people were the edgy forerunners of today’s extreme generation, engaging in long-distance jumping at the Matte, screaming plunges down the Wasserngrat, and…racing on skis behind horses.
Come again? Since at least 1922, visitors to Gstaad have been racing around tracks on skis pulled by galloping horses, a sport known as skijoring (Skijöring in Swiss). Derived from the Norwegian word for ‘ski driving’, in its broadest definition the sport consists of a person on skis being pulled by an animal or motor vehicle. The sport’s ancient antecedents are unclear, but may go as far back as 4,500 BC to the Sami people in northern Fennoscandia, where reindeer were used as draught animals to pull small toboggans or skiers. The earliest written account of a skier being pulled by an animal comes from China sometime during the Yuan and Ming dynasty period (1241-1644), and states that “tens of dogs pull a person on a pair of wooden boards”.
First seen in competition at the 1901 Nordic Games, and later as a demonstration sport at the 1928 Winter Olympics in St Moritz (its solitary Olympic appearance), skijoring was originally considered a military competition, being a method of transporting military dispatches in winter. Since the early 1900s, skijoring has become popular as an unconventional wintertime spectacle, with competitions such as White Turf in St Moritz garnering considerable international exposure.
Variations abound. Horses, ponies, and dogs seem to be the preferred quadrupedal motive power, but some choose to be pulled by snowmobiles, motorcycles, and automobiles. In the 1950s, a skier achieved 175km/h being towed behind a low-flying plane. Bentley Motors, in a 2012 promotional event with ski partner Zai in Gstaad, towed sixteen-time world skijoring champion Franco Moro and accompanying journalists behind a 2012 Bentley Continental GT.
GstaadLife readers don’t have to go to these extremes to experience the rush of this thrilling hybrid winter sport: the 2nd friendly skijoring competition in Gstaad will be held 2 February 2019.