There's winter adventure, and then there's horse-powered skiing on a remote luxury dude ranch. This Montana resort offers all of the above, and then some.
Advertisement
Person on a horse in the snow during Skijoring at Green O resort in Montana
Credit: Stephanie Vermillion

It was the Mountain West afternoon I'd long dreamed of: powder-dusted pines, grazing bison in the distance, and air so crisp I could see my breath. Except, I never did end up seeing it. I'd spent the last hours of Montana daylight nervously on skis, being pulled by a rescue horse through a slalom course of twists, turns, and a final jump that caused such immense tension I'd barely let out a breath.

The sport, known as skijoring, was entirely new to me. I'd signed up for this snow-and-horse take on waterskiing on a whim while finalizing details for my trip to The Green O, a posh new adults-only escape in the enchanting pine forests near Greenough, Montana. The all-inclusive resort's 12 glass-walled cabins, which could just as well be snow globes, are part of Montana's Resort at Paws Up, a 37,000-acre property offering luxury-meets-adventure dude ranch vacations.

Exterior of Social Haus at Green O resort in Montana
Credit: Stephanie Vermillion

The resort's outdoor concierges coordinate a host of excursions — we'd been snowmobiling the day before and dog sledding just that morning. (Sadly, I missed out on cow croquet.) While each experience is surreal, few activities screamed "goodbye comfort zone" like skijoring — and according to Paws Up equestrian resort manager Jackie Kecskes, that's all part of the plan.

"We're always trying to figure out how we can push guests just a little bit outside their comfort zones," Kecskes told me as I grabbed the rope for my first go-around. "It's all about calculated risk."

Skijoring at Green O resort in Montana
Credit: Stephanie Vermillion

To me, skiing while being pulled by a horse felt risky, but this sport is far from novel. The Skijor International association notes that the first report of a skijoring-type activity dates back thousands of years to the Altai Mountains of Asia. For centuries, Laplanders also relied on the mechanics of skijoring for long-distance journeys, although they used reindeer. The experience spread across Europe, and eventually into the U.S., in the early 1900s.

During the 1928 Winter Olympics in Switzerland, skijoring debuted as an exhibition sport (used to demonstrate and promote the event, sans medals). But you won't find it in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, nor would you have found it in previous years. Despite the past decade's worth of efforts to get skijoring in the Olympics — with a dog as the leader, not a horse — it's yet to make a second, more serious debut.

But as the wind whipped my face, and I prepared for the massive jump (read: glorified speed bump) in front of me, I didn't need the seal of the Winter Games to feel like a serious Olympian — or, as Kecskes put it, an authentic Montanan.

"The goal of the resort, and The Green O, is to create a place where people who aren't Montana natives can experience what we do as Montana locals," Kecskes said, noting skijoring competitions abound throughout the state. "There are places that dumb these kinds of experiences way down, but we want to push it a little bit so guests can grow and feel authentic."

And grow I did, although I wasn't the only one who'd built confidence out there. As an animal lover, Kecskes focuses on helping rescued horses find new, purpose-filled lives via the Paws Up ranch. The rescue horse that zipped me through the slalom course? Bo, a former Amish country workhorse. He arrived on the property to start his new life in 2020. Ready or not, I became Bo's skijoring guinea pig.

At first, "it was like trying to stop a freight train," said Kecskes, who rides the horses while guests grip the rope from behind. She and I decided I should skip the jump on that first circuit.

But Bo proved himself run after run. He was calm and ready for me to attempt that tiny mound of a jump. And, true to Kecskes' goal for the experience, I felt ready to obliterate that comfort zone.

Round Haus interior living room with cozy fireplace and large windows at Green O resort in Montana
Credit: Stephanie Vermillion

The jump came, I considered a last-minute dodge, but then went for it, full steam ahead. While I only got roughly a fingernail's worth of air, I spent the rest of the day prancing around The Green O's Social Haus hangout like a true champion — as did Bo, who took a quick post-jump victory lap with Kecskes. He'd obviously found his new life's calling. "This is the thing I love most about my job," Kecskes said as Bo pranced back inside. "We're able to make these big life changes."