Cowboy Downhill: ‘Let ‘em be doctors and lawyers and such…’ |

Cowboy Downhill: ‘Let ‘em be doctors and lawyers and such…’

Tom Ross

Rodeo clown J.W. Winklepleck launches off the jump on an inner tube prior to the start of the cowboy stampede — the final race of the 43rd Bud Light Cowboy Downhill, which was held on the slopes of Steamboat Ski Area Monday afternoon. Photo by John F. Russell

It was so cold at the 43rd Bud Light Cowboy Downhill at the Steamboat Ski Area Monday that even the goats were wearing coats.

Routt County Fair queen attendant Taylor Sanchez and her sister Izabell of Phippsburg brought Taylor’s breeding goat — destined for stardom at the 2017 fair in August — to the petting zoo in Gondola Square so city kids visiting Steamboat Springs could get some face time with livestock. The goat was wearing a stylish canvas duster to keep its body temperature up.

The Cowboy Downhill is the annual event in which rodeo cowboys, taking a quick break from the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver, come to Steamboat to attempt to prove that skiing is easier than staying aboard a snorting rodeo bull for 8 seconds. Most of them get “bucked off.”

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Prodded by a newspaper reporter to determine who has it tougher, rodeo cowboys or professional football players, bull rider Garrett Norby of Walsenburg didn’t hesitate.

“We don’t have no unnecessary roughness penalties,” Norby said.

He was hanging out with Tim Bingham of Honeyville, Utah, and Bingham’s girlfriend, Shelby Pattison, a rodeo barrel racer. Brigham said his trip to Steamboat would be his last vacation until the end of summer. He has an aggressive travel schedule beginning next week, but unlike old school rodeo cowboys, who used to drive through the night in pickup trucks hauling horse trailers, Bingham will mostly travel by Southwest Airlines.

“Beginning Wednesday next week, I’ll be traveling seven days to rodeos in a different town every day. I’ll go to Fort Worth, then Denver and then Toledo, Ohio, on Friday,” Bingham said. “Then it’s Hobbs, New Mexico, then Denver and Forth Worth again, and then two days in Rapid City. A week like that can cost me a lot of money.”

2017 Bud Light Cowboy Downhill at Steamboat Ski Area (photos)

J.W. Winklepleck of Strasbourg grew up skiing at Loveland and Steamboat, but he was a rodeo cowboy at heart.

“I rode bareback broncos for a lot of years,” Wonklepleck said.

But when he got a little old to stick bucking stock, he decided to move on to something more dangerous. Winklepleck became a rodeo clown — a job that requires him to interject himself between a cowboy struggling to get to his feet and a berserk bull bearing down on him with horns lowered.

“I’m the guy in the barrel,” Winklepleck said.

When a bull spins and aims its horns at a cowboy it just tossed to the ground, it’s Winklepleck’s job to hitch the barrel up to his armpits and sprint toward the bull, daring it to give him a good whack.

How does he know when his services are required? Winklepleck said his family raised rodeo broncs and bulls when he was a child, and he senses their moods better than most.

“I can understand what a bull’s thinking by reading his body language,” he said. “When a bull kind of raises his head like this and looks at him, I know he’s coming for that guy.”

There’s more to the annual Cowboy Downhill than thrills and spills.

For former longtime Steamboat race crew member Andy Hogrefe, Monday’s race took him back exactly 32 years to 1:30 a.m. Jan. 16, 1985, when his son, Christian, was born.

“We were all excited, and at about 5:30 a.m., Dr. (Jim) Dudley told me to let Sandra and Christian get some rest. So I hustled off to work and helped set up for the Cowboy Downhill,” later that day, Hogrefe recalled.

As it turned out, Sandra Hogrefe didn’t let her “baby grow up to be a cowboy,” as the Ed Bruce song made famous by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson goes. Instead, Christian is an accountant with an international firm and shuttles back and forth between Denver and Dallas for work.

Let ‘em be doctors and lawyers and such.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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