Mackenzie Tessier, right, tows skier Mila Long-Frost during a previous Skijoring Skowhegan competition, 2020. Credit: Jonathan Wheaton

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — Mainers can team up with friends and horses or cheer from the stands as one of only two equestrian skijoring competitions in the state returns to Skowhegan on Feb. 25.

Skijor Skowhegan — in which a horse and rider tow a snowboarder or skier along a 1,000-foot course with gates and jumps — is part of a series of winter events called Somerset SnowFest. This will be the fifth year in Skowhegan for the competition.

The intense sporting event was originally marketed as the only one of its kind in Maine until Topsham introduced a skijoring competition with horses last winter. Now organizers are working to grow participation in the events.

Between 50 and 60 teams competed last year, and about 2,000 spectators watched from the grandstand at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds, said Kristina Cannon, Main Street Skowhegan’s executive director.

Skijor Skowhegan and other recreational activities part of the festival began in 2019 as a way to keep people entertained during the frigid winter months and bring an economic boost to the area, she said. With $12,000 dedicated to promoting the event this year — thanks to a $6,000 marketing grant from the Maine Office of Tourism, plus an equal match from organizers — the hope is to attract about 80 teams and grow the number of attendees with their advertising efforts.

Reece Glew, right, and skier Jay Abbott participate in the Skijor Skowhegan competition. The unique event, part of Somerset SnowFest, will return to the Skowhegan Fairgrounds on Feb. 25, 2020. Credit: Jonathan Wheaton

“Certainly Maine sees more tourists in the summertime,” Cannon said. “We thought it was important to support local businesses by bringing people to town and getting them to celebrate winter.”

Main Street Skowhegan and Lake George Regional Park created the festival, which includes an ice fishing derby, dog sled rides and a yeti hunt, among other activities scattered throughout Canaan, Madison and Skowhegan.

The skijoring competition continued during the COVID-19 pandemic because it’s held outdoors, though face masks were required some years. In 2021, spectators were only allowed to tune into a livestream on Facebook, said Cannon, who thinks it drew some new fans.

“Skijoring is popular out west and in Canada,” she said, and it’s nice to see the sport expanding in Maine. “We would love to see the East Coast be included in the skijoring circuit.”

Skijor Skowhegan begins at 11 a.m. Feb. 25 at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds. Gates open at 10 a.m., and the opening ceremony begins at 10:45 a.m. Parking for spectators is $10.

Baxter Brewing Company is hosting a beer garden from 11 a.m. until the award ceremonies wrap up. There will also be a small concession booth under the grandstand, including soup, hotdogs and pizza.

Skijoring teams will be judged on the best of two runs, according to the event’s website. The fastest team will be awarded first place, the second fastest with second place and so on.

Divisions include pro, novice and junior novice with competitors assigned to groups based on age. Junior competitors, for example, are from 10 to 17 years old. Within the pro level are skier and snowboarder subdivisions.

Prizes range from $100 to $400 based on the division, and cash is split between the horse rider and skier or snowboarder.

The Somerset SnowFest will feature a variety of activities next month. An ice hole championship — which is similar to cornhole in principle — at Lake George Regional Park’s boat launch area, horse-drawn sleigh rides at Coburn Park and a story walk at Weston Woods & Waters in Madison are a few of the options.

Lake George Regional Park is free for use during the festival. The event schedule is available online.