In places where winter is a very real and brutal thing, outdoor recreation becomes a blend of activity, adventure, spectacle, lunacy and open dare. In the dead of winter in Alaska for example people climb frozen waterfalls, speed around on snowmachines or skijor.
Yes, skijoring sounds placid and solitary and maybe even a little quaint, but the official definition provides some latitude that cracks open the door to winter craziness. How? Skijoring is explained as an activity involving skis and being towed, usually by a dog or maybe a horse, but also (and this is very important) by a motorized vehicle.
Skis, some rope and internal combustion seem like three things that would only come together after some late night booze addled brainstorming, but leave it to the Latvians to make it a reality.
In Cesis, a medieval town in the western part of the country, the former Soviets clip themselves to the backs of motorcycles and whip through the snow like mad hares in perhaps one of the most ill-advised outdoor activities ever created. It might technically hold the skijoring handle, but the people of Cesis have a more practical name: Ski racing behind motorcycles.
You really gotta hand it to those Latvians. And if they’re worth their Borscht, then it’s certain a quantity of Vodka is involved. Earlier this year, American enthusiasts paid homage to the tradition by hosting the RedBull Twitch N’ Ride in Cesis where close to 300 participated.
Racers begin on foot, scrambling for their bikes and skis at the sound of the gun. Once mounted, it’s a mad scramble for the finish line, which can only be reached through a series of banks, turns, jumps, drop-offs, ice hazards, trees and climbs, all performed at speed, with the critical skier snap-linked to the back.
“To win at the finals, a very good skier is needed,” remarked one participant. “It all depends on the skier on this route.”
Our question is, is the skier actually skiing, or just holding on until it’s all over? The physics behind towing an object at high speed and through hard turns makes for frightening spikes in velocity and unpredictable trajectories, which seems to be the very core of the sport.
“I think now the smartest will win because of ice” remarks another. “In this ride everyone had to fall. Everyone.”