Cowboy Downhill climbs back into saddle after missing a year
One of Steamboat Springs’s longest-running traditions will climb back into the saddle this January after last year’s event was canceled for the first time since The Bud Light Cowboy Downhill first rode into town 48 years ago.
“It goes hand-in-hand with what we do in the summer of keeping the Western tradition alive in Steamboat Springs,” said John Shipley of Steamboat Pro Rodeo fame, who co-announces the event with Bob Feist, a member of the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. “It’s a signature event for sure, and I think the people at the Steamboat Resort will tell you, it’s a bigger spectator event than anything else they do.”
This year, the Bud Light Cowboy Downhill will take place Monday, Jan. 17, which is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
The festivities leading up to the start of the 47th Annual Bud Light Cowboy Downhill will begin at 11 a.m. and include a western celebration in the base area featuring 4-H farm animals, food and refreshments at Timber & Torch Grill, a learn-to-rope clinic and appearances by the Denver Broncos Cheerleaders.
Steamboat Resort officials encourage folks to come out early if they want to find a good spot along the dual slalom race course, or secure a spot on the deck of the Timber & Torch, which offers a view of the entire course.
The racers will take to the course at 1 p.m., as 90 to 100 cowboys and cowgirls ski down a dual slalom course and go over a jump before they lasso a person, saddle a horse and cross the finish line in a timed event. The dual slalom will be followed by the Stampede Event, which is a mass start free-for-all where the first cowboy or cowgirl to the bottom wins.
Then at 2:30 p.m., the events will draw to a close with a free concert in Steamboat Square featuring high-energy bluegrass ensemble The Lil Smokies.
The very first Cowboy Downhill was created by six-time World Champion cowboy Larry Mahan and former World Champion and Olympic silver medalist Alpine ski racer Billy Kidd.
The idea was to get rodeo stars who were in Colorado for the National Western Stock Show to come to Steamboat, where they would spend the morning learning to ski and the afternoon racing down the slopes in this one-of-a-kind event.
“I would say, to be honest with you, that The Cowboy Downhill has been big-time for 40 years out of the 47 years it has taken place,” said Barb Shipley, who is married to John and has been part of the Cowboy Downhill since the first cowboys flew into Steamboat on a Frontier Airlines flight the very first year.
Last year, COVID-19 got in the way, and when the organizers of the National Western Stock Show elected not to hold the event in Denver, it just didn’t make any sense to have the downhill at the Steamboat Resort.
This year’s stock show is slated to begin Saturday, Jan. 8, and continue through Jan. 23. Shipley said that the Cowboy Downhill has only missed one go-round since Kidd and Mahan started rounding up cowboys, and this year everyone involved is thrilled to have them back.
Barb Shipley said the first years of the event the cowboys simply had to ski down the course, but very early on the organizers made it more difficult by adding roping and saddling portions before the cowboys could cross the finish line, and they also added a pro jump in the middle of the course that seems to get bigger with every year.
A few years back, organizers moved the event from its traditional Tuesday slot to Monday so it would line up with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Organizers said the move allowed more people to attend the event, and visitors would be in town.
“I don’t ever see it going away because the cowboys love to come, and now the cowgirls come as well,” Barb Shipley said. “When you’re in the rodeo world, everybody knows about Steamboat Cowboy Downhill, and a lot of them have it on their bucket list.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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