If you’re attending Somerset Snowfest this weekend, you’ll have an opportunity to see a sport that’s quickly growing in popularity in Maine.

Skijor is like ultimate skiing or snowboarding, but instead of riding a chairlift to get down the mountain, you’re riding behind a horse going 30 miles per hour. 

(Courtesy of Main Street Skowhegan/Jonathan Wheaton Photography)

Starting at 11 a.m. Saturday, Skijor Skowhegan is the sport’s only time-trial race in New England. The event is expected to draw 1,500 people to Skowhegan to watch as competitors compete for cash prizes, swag, and of course, bragging rights. 

Spectrum News Maine spoke with Kristina Cannon of Main Street Skowhegan to find out more about the sport and how it came to be in the state: 

What is skijoring? 
Skijoring is pretty popular out west and they have some Canadian events as well, but right now we’re one of two (events) in the Northeast. For us, it’s equestrian skijoring. It’s a horse and a rider pulling a skier or snowboarder down a track. 

How many people are participating this year? And how do you win?
We have 19 novice teams and 30 pro teams. The novices go down the track and can choose to hit jumps if they want to, but most of them will just hit the rollers. It’s a time trial, so the fastest team will win. 

For the pro teams, we’ve got three jumps and a set of rollers — they have to grab rings as they hit one of the jumps. We make it a little trickier for the pro teams. It’s also a timed trial and everyone gets two runs. 

How did Skijoring come to Maine?
Mary Haley, who used to work for Main Street Skowhegan, actually came up with skijoring back when we first hired her four years ago. This is a big thanks to her. We would not be doing this event if it wasn’t for her pushing through and talking with people out west. We’re excited that she brought skijoring to the state of Maine. 

We’re hoping that we’ll see some other communities around the state host their own events and then we can host the regional finals here every year and maybe we’ll send one of the Maine teams to a national final. 

Do people bring their own equipment?
This is our fourth year and every year, including this year, we’ve allowed people to sign up as singles or as a team and we’ll pair people with a horse and a rider or a skier and a snowboarder. We’re hoping that next year people will have made friends with the skijoring crowd in the state and be able to make up their own teams.

It seems to be a niche sport. Is there a big community involved?
We have grown with spectators every year. With COVID-19, we didn’t have spectators but we had close to 9,000 views with our Facebook live stream with people from all across the country. So that was really heartwarming to see that, even during COVID, we had people watching from afar. 

I would say it’s growing in awareness in Maine. We have increased our teams every year, also. We’re at 49 teams this year, which is great. It will be a full afternoon of watching people race down the track at the fairgrounds. 

Why Skowhegan?
Snowfest started last Saturday and we’ve had probably a dozen events so far. Tomorrow is just skijoring. 

We as an organization host a bunch of events in Skowhegan to promote the town and bring people to our community. It’s our hope that they spend some money locally and at our small businesses. We’re excited to bring people to Skowhegan tomorrow and hope they come out for the event. 

For the full schedule of events at Somerset Snowfest, click here.