SKOWHEGAN — Mainers from near and far bundled up to face the cold weather Saturday and cheer on skijoring teams during the annual Skowhegan SnowFest celebration.

The fifth annual Skijor Skowhegan took place Saturday at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds, and the races went on as scheduled, despite the frigid start to the day. Running throughout the day with roughly 50 teams competing, fans from near and far filled the stands to enjoy the show.

Brenda Sweet braved the cold and drove in from Warren after seeing the races advertised. She used to own horses, so was interested in the concept, and was impressed by the competitors.

“I think they’re doing a great job,” Sweet said. “I don’t think I would dare to attempt it.”

The layers of winter gear made clapping difficult, but spectators made their support clear with plenty of cheering, and stomping that shook the stands; for both particularly impressive teams and to support those who stood back up after crashing into the snow.

Horse skijoring is a team time-trial race, in which a horse and rider pull a skier or snowboarder around a groomed track. Teams at Skowhegan had to navigate gates and jumps while grabbing rings at certain spots along the track. Each team gets two attempts, and is ranked on the best time. Teams are assessed a five-second penalty for missing a gate or jump, and a one-second penalty for missing or dropping a ring.


Luke Weiser grabs some air off a jump Saturday while competing in the annual Skijor Skowhegan competition at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Skijor Skowhegan is part of Somerset SnowFest, which is organized by Main Street Skowhegan and Lake George Regional Park. The annual festival aims to highlight Skowhegan’s outdoor recreation and draw people to the area to support local businesses.

SnowFest was the first event to bring equine skijoring to Maine, and the sport has picked up steam, evidenced by an additional competition now hosted in Topsham and the large crowd in Skowhegan. Organizers estimated around 4,000 people came out for the races.

“It’s amazing knowing that we brought skijoring to Maine and now it’s a growing sport,” said Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan. “We hope others will consider hosting a competition and we’re proud to continue to host the Northeast Regional finals here in Skowhegan each year.”

Organizers have been planning for the event since September, Cannon said. They were concerned about a lack of snow last month, but were pleasantly surprised by recent snowfall. There was a variety of concessions available for attendees, and a beer garden hosted by Baxter Brewing Co., the lead sponsor for the event.

Tristan and Taylor Polduc drove up from Bowdoin for Saturday’s event, and brought their dog Cooper. Tristan Polduc helped a friend train for the competition, although he didn’t compete himself. And although they’d been to the Topsham competition, this was their first time attending the races in Skowhegan.

Maggie Robbins of Dover-Foxcroft decided to come out after several riders at the horse farm she works at said they were participating. She was joined by 5-year-old Sorina, who was excited to watch the races, and helped some of the riders train by riding in a sled behind the horses. Sorina is already excited to be old enough to compete herself.

“It’s been fun watching it,” Robbins said. “She was a training partner, so before they got a skier the horse was pulling her on a little sled, so she’s already planning to do her own competition one of these days, I’m sure.”

Somerset SnowFest will wrap up Sunday with a winter triathlon, kite fest and winter crafts, all at Lake George Regional Park; and children’s artist Scot Cannon at the Skowhegan Opera House. The festival’s activities have had great turnouts all week, Kristina Cannon said, with events like the yeti hunt Tuesday seeing over 50 kids participate.

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