It doesn’t get more ‘Western’ than this, rodeo queen says (w/video)
Pros go head-to-head at Steamboat Resort for 47th Cowboy Downhill
The 47th annual Bud Light Cowboy Downhill went off without a hitch Monday, Jan. 17, at Steamboat Resort, marking the return of one of the city’s most beloved events and proving that some cowboys and cowgirls can, in fact, ski.
The event returned to the resort after taking a year off in 2021 due to the pandemic.
“It’s fabulous to have it back,” 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. “Look at all the people here. This is a bigger deal to Steamboat than a World Cup event. … It’s worth the price of admission.”
The free races at the Cowboy Downhill featured more than 100 men and women of the professional rodeo circuit racing on skis and snowboards — some more gracefully than others.
A couple of the racers were carted off the course by the rodeo clown, J.W. Winklepleck, on an inflatable that looked like a jet ski, though none of them were hurt.
Others finished their turns running downhill in their ski or snowboard boots. However, most completed the course, which included a large jump near the top, without too much trouble.
The Cowboy Downhill began more than 40 years ago with Billy Kidd, Steamboat Resort’s director of skiing, and Larry Mahan, a six-time all-around World Champion cowboy, inviting a few ProRodeo stars up for a day on the mountain.
The cowboys had such a great time, Shipley recalled, that the Downhill has become one of the most popular events of the season.
Timed to coincide with the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Monday’s races began with the rodeo pros going head-to-head in a timed dual slalom.
After hitting the large jump about a third of the way down the course, the competitors had to weave through a handful of flags, lasso a person and saddle a horse before crossing the finish line.
At least one cowboy finished crawling on his hands and knees, but most completed the course upright.
The dual slalom was then followed by the Stampede, an all-out free-for-all down the mountain with a mass start putting all the racers on the course at same time.
“It’s about as Western as it gets, and that’s also how I describe rodeo,” said Jayden Calvert, a rodeo queen from the Drayton Valley in Alberta, Canada.
Cowboy Downhill on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022, at Steamboat Resort. | Eli Pace/Steamboat Pilot & Today
Pulling a quote from a movie he enjoys, Shipley said he likes describing the stampede as “downhill and out of control.” Still, it all just goes to prove that cowboys can actually ski.
“In the early days, when my wife, Barb, was the first ski hostess … (the cowboys) couldn’t ski,” Shipley said. “But Larry Mahan, he came up, and Billy Kidd taught him how to ski. And Billy was amazed, because of their athletic ability, how well these guys took to skiing and how quickly they caught on. All of a sudden, we started bringing more and more, and it’s been a big event ever since.”
Now that the Canadians have gotten wind of it, the bar is only getting higher, Shipley added.
“I don’t think you can really say that you’ve skied or snowboarded until you’ve tried it in chaps and a cowboy hat,” Calvert said.
Following the stampede, the Lil Smokies played a free concert in Steamboat Square. After the races in Steamboat, many of the cowboys and cowgirls will make their way National Western Stock Show in Denver.
Eli Pace is the editor of the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Reach him at email@example.com or 970-871-4221.
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