sleigh rides

Telluride Ski Resort got the OK to offer horse-drawn sleigh rides this ski season during a Dec. 13 Mountain Village Town Council meeting. Above, the two routes, which both start at The Peaks Resort & Spa. (Courtesy image)

Telluride Ski Resort has halted horse-drawn sleigh rides indefinitely after a New Year’s Eve “incident,” according to Matt Windt, the resort’s vice president of sales and marketing.

A sleigh, which was being pulled by a team of Haflingers (Loki and Thor), was stopped on Lower Village Bypass to take in Monday night’s fireworks display in Mountain Village, but during the grand finale, the horses began to backpedal, causing the sleigh to slide off the edge of the ski run, according to Telluride Wranglers owner Noah Gregory.

Before the sleigh tipped over, Gregory had the four passengers evacuate. Paramedics checked the guests. No injuries were reported; the horses were not harmed during the incident.

“It was the best case scenario, given what happened,” he said. “ … They stood perfectly still for the whole fireworks display. There was no indication whatsoever that they were spooking or uncomfortable.

“Right before the sleigh tipped, they just backed up. They did not rear up or buck up. They just got a little nervous and backed the sleigh up. Unfortunately, the ski run had an end to it.”

Telski tabbed Telluride Wranglers to operate the sleigh rides last month, as Mountain Village Council unanimously approved the resort’s conditional use permit application to allow equestrian activities throughout 118 acres of its land during a Dec. 13 meeting.

The company’s team of Belgians (Chance and Charlie), which was pulling a second sleigh, was unphased by the fireworks, Gregory added.

It is unclear at this time when or if the rides will resume.

“We’re working together to make sure that all the safety and emotional responses are being taken care of before we even talk about business,” Gregory said.

Gregory and Jeff Proteau, Telski’s vice president of mountain operations and planning, addressed concerns about horses potentially being spooked by helicopters landing and taking off from The Peaks Resort & Spa during the December council meeting. At the time, Gregory explained that wranglers would be with the horses the first couple times there was helicopter activity, but once they were used to it they would be fine.

On Wednesday, Gregory said his horses don’t startle easily and incidents like Monday’s are few and far in between.

“It’s very rare. Obviously, they are still animals, but it is extremely rare,” he said. “We would never have done anything or promoted anything like this if we personally felt like our team of horses wasn’t capable of it.”   

The horses used for the sleigh rides are the same ones that appeared in the Telluride Fourth of July parade without incident, Gregory said, explaining the horses are accustomed to such stimuli. After Monday’s mishap, he added, Thor and Loki were fine, like “nothing ever happened,” as they were walked back to the temporary corral near The Peaks’ tennis courts. Telluride Wranglers was previously approved to host horse-drawn carriage tours through the Town of Telluride, which are still set to begin this summer.

Telski’s permit was approved for five years, but Proteau explained the resort would evaluate tour operations after this season and go from there at the council meeting.

“We’re going to learn a lot in the first year,” he said.

Information about the sleigh rides was removed from the Telluride Wranglers website this week.

Telski sent out a news release Wednesday morning that stated: “Unfortunately, we had an incident on New Year’s Eve with our sleigh ride vendor and at this time we are suspending all operations. Current reservation holders are being contacted and updated.”

The resort did not provide any additional information, deferring all questions regarding the Monday episode to Telluride Wranglers. Requests for additional comments were not immediately returned before press time Thursday afternoon.