For more about pack burro racing in Colorado and a 2016 schedule, check out the official site of the Western Pack Burro Racing Ass-ociation.
As legend has it, two dusty donkey-toting hardrock miners were knocking down a few drinks at an old wooden saloon in Colorado’s high country back in 1949, when one of ’em muttered something about how he could run his jackass up and over a mountain faster than the other.
After tipping back one more shot, it was on. Melville Sutton won $500 for being the first to wrangle his burro 23 miles from the mining hub of Leadville, up and over 13,187-foot Mosquito Pass to the remote outpost of Fairplay. Thus, the peculiar sport of pack burro racing was born.
It doesn’t matter much if that’s an entirely true story or a tall tale steeped in Western folklore, because whatever happened that whiskey-infused day spawned what would six decades later become Colorado’s official summer heritage sport. Now in its 66th season of organized competition, pack burro racing is a rather bizarre mix of old-time prospecting and modern-day trail running. But really, it’s all about hootin’, hollerin’, hoof-steppin’ and haulin’ ass.
“It’s not about how fast you are as a runner or how fast your burro is,” says veteran burro racer John Vincent, 56, a pig farmer by trade. “It’s truly a team race. You’ve got to figure out how to work with your animal. I’m not a great runner, but I have a great burro that allows me to compete with some of the best burro racers.”
In the video above, we chronicle this wild and wacky tradition with scenes from the first race of the season—an 8.5-mile dusty ramble amid inclement weather—in Georgetown, Colo.