Cole's Climb
Trail Talk
Preserving Ski Joring for the Next Generation with Yakov Foley

Preserving Ski Joring for the Next Generation with Yakov Foley

How one of the youngest competitors on the circuit is working to secure the future of his unusual sport

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During these interviews, I share stories from members of the outdoor community. Our discussions range from wild adventures to survival skills, conservation, and current events.

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a skier lands a jump on one ski while being towed by a horseback rider. Snow flies through the air, and the crowd cheers.
Skier Yakov Foley lands an impressive one-ski jump during Leadville’s 2022 Ski Joring Competition

Look Familiar?

If you missed my earlier piece about Ski Joring — a thrilling cross between rodeo and winter sports — I highly recommend you check it out.

One of my favorite pictures from the event featured a skier launching through the air, towed behind a galloping horse, about to land on one ski. That skier is 17-year-old senior Yakov Foley, competing in the event for the first time.

From my layman’s perspective: the execution of this jump was so flawless, I assumed Foley did this on purpose to show off his skills. In this interview, I learned how wrong I was.

“My Left Ski got Caught in a Rut. It Popped off, and I Thought I was Done. I just Remember Looking Down and Realizing I was Still Going.”

Foley tells me he raced professionally for Vail before his official ski joring debut. Part of his practice routine involved one-ski drills. He never quite cared for them, but that training helped prepare for the moment pictured above.

“You have to be there. It takes Many Years of Failing and Falling Down.”

One of the toughest aspects of the sport is the lack of opportunities to actually train. Foley prepares by getting in backcountry turns or getting towed by an ATV or snowmobile.

But finding a course to practice jumps and ring gathering is a whole other matter. The skier in line behind him evidently only rides a handful of times per year, always in competition.

This atmosphere makes ski joring a real game-time sport, where the best way to progress is registering for more competitions in the circuit.

“It’s kind of just in the moment, you figure it out, and every year you get a little bit better,” Foley said.

a close-up of some of the rings riders are required to grab
Rings on the Leadville course

Interview Notes

1:30 — Preparing for the sport
3:45 — Making the run on one ski
4:15 — Professional ski racing career
5:30 — Fortune favors the prepared
6:00 — A finish-line crash
7:30 — Getting up after a bad fall
8:50 — Saving the sport for the next generation
10:40 — Introducing others to the sport
11:15 — The hardest part about training a horse for ski joring

“It’s just that Culture of Bringing a Rodeo Sport and a Skiing Event Together. We can talk about how Physically Different it is, but that Vibe, that Arena is just a Different Experience.”

The energy at these competitions is something you need to experience in order to truly understand. It all happens so quickly. But the crowd is genuinely supportive and invested in each run.

If you missed my original story about the event and would like to learn more about the sport: you can read about the rules — as well as how you can see it in person: check out this post.

a horseback rider turns in the middle of the road
A rider warms up their horse with a trot down Harrison Avenue

“This is the Most Amazing 17 Seconds of Your Life — You need to come down here and try it.”

This was the first year Foley was eligible to compete in the horse events — younger riders are eligible to practice being towed through the course by snowmobile. But Foley says he’s part of a much older crowd.

“In both the sport and open division, I was the youngest competitor there. It’s a little bit sad to watch as the sport is slowly falling out. There’s not young guys like me going into the sport anymore. It’s mostly guys that have been doing it for years and years. I’m really hoping that I can talk to my friends and inspire people. Like, ‘hey this is the most amazing 17 seconds of your life, you need to come down here and try it.’”

Foley says he’s trying to get more of his friends, and younger members of the community interested in the sport. Without an influx of riders to take the reigns, the 74-year-old sport faces an expiration date as older competitors retire.

“I’m actually in the process with a group of my friends to try and put together a ski joring team to go around through the circuits,” Foley said. The young skier says he also recently purchased a colt, which he plans to raise and train for the sport.

“When you have Five Thousand People in a Channel Running at them, that’s Where they get a bit Nervous.”

The process of training a horse for the sport though, is quite a bit different from what you might expect. One of the most important steps is simple socialization. It’s not unlike the way you’d train a puppy to get used to people:

“Horses get very easily spooked. The only thing you can do is take them to parades; take them to other events,” Foley explained. “We’d ride our horses up to the event and let people touch them and get them used to being around that many people.”

a cheering crowd watches from the sidelines
Crowds like this can be scary for an unprepared horse.

At the end of the day though, there’s only so much preparation that can be done. Regular readers known risk assessment is something I write about often. Ski joring is no different.

“You have to go into ski joring with the mindset that someone could get hurt,” Foley said. “It’s not easy to do, but we train, and we practice everything we can to be as safe as possible.”

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Cole's Climb
Trail Talk
Conversations in, and about the outdoors and the incredible adventures you can find there. Topics range from conservation, to tackling tough challenges that push our limits.