Saratoga’s inaugural skijoring event, intended to replace perennial favorite chariot races, was a success that orgabuzers hope will lead to big things for the event in the future.
Richard Raymer of the Lion’s Club, one of the organizers of the event, said in skijoring’s first year, attendance surpassed the attendance of chariot races, despite the fact the event was organized only during the last 45 days after a lack of competitors for chariot races forced organizers to abandon that event.
“There’s a new winter event in Saratoga,” Raymer said. “That’s skijoring.”
“I thought first off it went really well,” said Rob Streeter, a member of the Platte Valley Jaycees, the other civic club that co-sponsored the event. “We had some growing pains if you will, but I think even by Sunday morning those were figured out.
“I think it was an awesome success.”
The chariot races were popular, Raymer said, but a lack of participants meant that just about 45 days ago, the organizers at the Lion’s Club had to make the decision to cancel the popular event. Members of the Jaycees approached the Lions about trying skijoring, an event that blends horse riding and skiing.
Originally, many in the clubs were talking about holding the inaugural skijoring event next year, giving organizers over a year to plan. But members of the Lions saw an opportunity to try something new without delaying a year, saying it was important to draw crowds into the Valley to help local businesses.
Jimmy Campbell, bartender at the Wolf Hotel said in that regard, he thought the event was a success. Even though Campbell said he was not on duty at the Wolf for much of the event, there was a marked increase in business at the bar and restaurant, with Friday night being particularly busy, as well as lunch Saturday.
Campbell said he had also heard that other bars and restaurants in Saratoga had been “slammed.”
Anthony Gonzales, bartender at Duke’s, said the weekend was very busy, estimating that the crowds at Dukes were 2-3 times larger than last year’s crowds during the chariot races.
Gonzales said that he worked at Duke’s during chariot races for the last three years. During that time, he said, he noticed the crowds being drawn into the bar decreased each year.
“The crowds this weekend topped what I’ve seen for the last three years here (during chariot races),” he said.
On Saturday, evening shift bartenders who usually start at 5 p.m. were called in at 2 p.m. to help the day staff because things were so busy at the bar, he said.
The effects on lodging in Saratoga were not as clear, however. Judy Hodges, a desk clerk at the Hacienda Motel, said there was a slight increase in the number of rooms rented Friday at the motel.
During the chariot races and other winter events such as the ice fishing derby, the motel generally was booked solid, she said. Hodges said that in her opinion, it was because the event was put together on such a short timetable with less time to publicize the event.
Raymer, echoing Gonzales, said estimated attendance Saturday eclipsed that of the chariot races with about 600 people in attendance. The number of competitors was also capped by organizers to prevent the event from becoming too big to be managed, especially in the first year.
“We were a little scared of getting in over our heads,” Streeter said. “We figured it was better to have a well-done event with fewer people than to try and satisfy a bunch more people and deliver a bad event.”
Streeter is confident that next year the organizers will be ready to host more competitors and visitors. Streeter said officials from Skijoring USA, a body that sanctions skijoring events, told him they were very impressed with Saratoga’s event, saying it was one of the best organized and attended first year events they had seen.
“They (Skijoring USA officials) loved our track, they loved our crowd and they loved our announcers,” Raymer said. “It was a pretty good pat on the back to everybody involved to have professionals come to town and say we did a good job.”
For the inaugural event, Streeter and Raymer said the decision was made to keep skijoring on the same date as the chariot races would have been held. Future events will likely be held earlier in the winter when snowfall is more predictable. Warm temperatures over the weekend saw lots of melting snow and mud, and severe winds Sunday probably limited attendance on that day.
According to Streeter, the goal of organizers should be to find a date when there is likely to be more snow and which fits in well to the schedule for other skijoring events in other places.
Raymer said that organizers of the event must also consider other events happening across the Valley such as the Saratoga Ice Fishing Derby and the Encampment Winter Carnival.
“The last thing anybody wants to do is getting into competing events,” Raymer said. “It just doesn’t work because we have such great local support for all of those events.”
Future skijoring events will also try to add new elements that were missing from the inaugural event, Raymer said. Chief among them is Calcutta betting. Next year, organizers would like to find a way to integrate the Calcutta into the event as was done for chariot racing.
“We didn’t do one (a Calcutta) this year because we just wanted to give everyone a chance to see the event.”
Monday, Raymer said there was not an accounting of how much was raised by the skijoring event. Money brought in during the event will be divided up among the Lion’s Club and the Jaycees, he said.
Raymer said the event would not have been successful as is was without the support of local volunteers, of which there were about 50-60 he said. Volunteers helped construct the track, haul snow in and even take tickets at the gate.
“I just want to thank everybody in the community who took the time out of the weekend to come out and hang out and watch races, and everyone who helped,” Streeter said. “We did it, we made it happen.”