Winter in Leadville: Crystal Carnival

Leadville, Colorado, celebrates winter during the annual Crystal Carnival March 1-3, 2013, highlighted by the town’s time-honored tradition of ski joring, a unique winter sport combining horses and skiing.

Since 1949, Leadville’s streets have been converted to winter racetracks for the annual ski joring competition. Horses and their riders pull skiers along the snow-packed roadways and over jumps while the skier spears rings in a timed competition.

The sport originated in Scandinavia hundreds of years ago, with reindeer in place of horses. It migrated to the U.S. and became popular with ranchers, who used horses and rope to pull skiers along a straightaway.

Today, the highly competitive sport takes place in several states across the U.S., as well as in several other countries that use variations of pulling power, such as dogs, mules or snowmobiles.

Ski joring consists of a horse and rider pulling a skier over jumps and along a straightaway to spear rings.

This year’s Leadville competition will feature four classes of ski teams: Open Class for experienced teams, Sport Class for beginners, Legends Class for seasoned teams, and the Snowmobile Class.

The competition takes place alongside the Crystal Carnival, another Leadville tradition, established in 1895. During that year’s winter, local businessmen built the Ice Palace to counter the slowing mining economy. The builders cut 5,000 tons of ice from nearby lakes to sculpt life-size townspeople, a skating rink and the Gallery of Commerce that served frozen produce, beer and other items.

The first Crystal Carnival attracted crowds that came by train from Denver and around the country and featured a parade and fireworks. This year’s carnival has expanded its original bounds, and, coupled with the ski joring competition, promises to be fun for the whole family.

Events include the Harrison Avenue Knock-Out Nordic Sprint races on Friday, March 1, with participants dashing 400 meters under the lights for cash prizes ($3 entry fee; visit for more information). Saturday and Sunday, March 2 & 3, the Dutch Henry Sledding Hill will offer free sledding from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sledders can bring their own tube or rent one for $5 an hour. Tethered hot air balloon rides will be offered at the bottom of the tubing hill from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (weather permitting).

The Lake County Ice Skating Rink will also be open from 3:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday . And on Sunday, the police take on the firemen in the “Guns vs. The Hoses” broomball game at 10 a.m.

Even the kids can try ski joring behind a snowmobile.

Other events happening Saturday and Sunday include a pancake breakfast from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and the  annual Mount Massive Mush dog sledding race from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (visit for more information).

Saturday races include the Shelter Dog Shuffle, where participants run, walk or snowshoe their dog in a one-mile race around Mount Massive Golf Course (beginning at 2 p.m.), and the Mineral Belt Mayhem, looping 11 miles on Leadville’s Mineral Belt Trail (registration at 5 p.m.; race begins at 7 p.m.).

For the kids, the fourth annual Leadville Biathlon begins at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, featuring 1K, 5K and 10K races at the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center (visit The Kids’ Parade, at 10 a.m. both days, invites children 5-12 to join in and get a free balloon. Plus, younger skiers can try ski joring behind a snowmobile  on Saturday around 10:30 a.m. (visit for more details).

If You Go

For more information about Leadville, visit or call 855-488-1222.