You won’t believe what kids do for fun in Steamboat Springs

It’s hard to believe that parents sign up to have a horse rope-pull their 6-year-old skiers down this ski town. But darn, it’s fun to watch. The hilarity happens every year at Steamboat Springs, Colorado’s Winter Carnival, which has provided the ultimate cure for cabin fever for 104 years.

Winter Carnival youngsters get after it in skijoring and ski-jumping contests. Photo: Courtesy of Shannon Lukens

Each February for one wild weekend locals dump loads of snow down Steamboat’s main drag, close town to car traffic and stage a lineup of street events, featuring all kinds of antics like the skijoring contest for kids ages 6 to 9 and 10 to 14.

Downtown Steamboat Springs transforms for Winter Carnival, now in its 104th year. Photo: Julie Kailus

The sport is derived from the Norwegian word “skikjøring,” which means “ski driving.” That’s not very accurate for what it really is: getting tugged off your rocker by a motor vehicle, sled dog or, in Timmy Landers’ case, a ranch horse.

Isabel Powell, left, and Timmy Landers, lulled by a hot chocolate, join a friend during the skijoring event. Photo: Courtesy of Mike Powell

“They call up a horse and the cowboys asks, ‘Do you want to go fast?'” says Landers, 10, who won his age group this year in eight seconds flat.

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His strategy?

Don’t run behind the horse where the snow gets choppy, and “hold onto the rope as tight as you can!” To make the horse go faster, you just pull on the rope, says Landers, which is exactly what he did this year to blast past the finish line to a roaring crowd of spectators.

Some weren’t so lucky. One girl in the younger age group got caught up in the hoof-pummeled riffraff, lost the rope and her balance and launched headfirst nearly into the sidewalk. She was swiftly checked over and walked off the course.

Others donned princess costumes, and one junior showoff in a cowboy getup waved to the crowd as he finished the skijore run one-handed.

“You should try to do a tuck at the end so you can pull through the finish line past the horse,” says Isabel Powell, 10, who skis bumps for Steamboat’s esteemed, Olympian-churning Winter Sports Club, for which the Winter Carnival raises funds.

“Just hold on and it will be fun overall,” says Powell, who chose a fast horse and sped down the center of the course for an impressive run.

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Other events include daytime events throughout the weekend, like a three-legged race on skis, a shovel race and a slalom event, among others.

If that weren’t crazy enough, after dark things really heat up, with Winter Sports Club members outfitted in LED suits running various ski disciplines down the town-side ski-jumping hill; skiers flipping sick tricks through a massive ring of fire; blasting of the world’s largest firework (2,220 pounds); and the infamous “lighted man,” one insane resident who, outfitted in a live pyrotechnics suit, shoots fireworks off his back while he skis down the mountain.

Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.