Cowboy tradition

National Western Stock Show riders still enjoy competing in annual downhill event at ski area

— After 29 years of the Cowboy Downhill in Steamboat Springs, the event has gone from first-time skiing rodeo pros racing out of control to a crew of veteran skiers serious about winning.

Billy Kidd, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. director of skiing, who helped organize the first Cowboy Downhill, said the longevity of the event has given the cowboys a chance to learn to ski.

"They also now are making a little bit more money and can afford to go skiing," Kidd said.

Pro rodeo bareback rider Boe Krick, for example, is a genuine Colorado Rocky Mountain native, growing up in Carbondale. He knows how to ski and snowboard and hopes to win the event this year.

"I've got it in my plans," he said. "I'm going to give it my best."

Though not all the cowboys have the background of Krick, many of them participating in the Cowboy Downhill on Tuesday already have their ski legs, Kidd said.

Who would have thought this is how the Cowboy Downhill would have evolved? Heck, who would have thought that it would last for 29 years?

Kidd didn't.

Well, maybe he just couldn't.

"Cowboys and ski racers only think 24 hours ahead. They certainly don't think 29 years ahead," Kidd said.

No matter. Though most of the cowboys can ski today, the true fun of the event hasn't changed over the years, and Kidd said that's why the event has lasted for so long.

The creation of the Cowboy Downhill has become nearly legendary. In 1974, Kidd and Larry Mahan, six-time All-Around World Champion cowboy, decided it would be fun to invite a few of the pro rodeo stars from the National Western Stock Show in Denver up to Steamboat for a day of skiing and racing.

Kidd said the idea was obvious to him after he first taught a couple of the cowboys to ski.

"When you get two cowboys together, you're going to get a competition," he said.

Officials set up a slalom and a downhill race for the cowboys. The latter features the whole field of rodeo-skiers, some 100 cowboys, racing down the mountain together.

"In the early years, the cowboys didn't really want to learn to ski," Kidd said.

Lessons were offered during the morning of the race, but Kidd said most of the competitors didn't want to be "distracted by learning." They'd strap on the skis on the top of the run and just go.

As it turned out, that philosophy works for rodeo cowboys, Kidd said. They are all tough, good athletes and have no fear, which are the most important elements of a good skier.

The same is true today, even for the cowboys who have taken plenty of turns on the slopes. The two sports have some things in common.

"I think it is a lot similar," Krick said.

He said if you're good at one, you could be good at the other.

Skiing can be rough and you need good balance, he added.

This year's Bud Light Cowboy Downhill is at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. It begins with a dual slalom race on Headwall. After negotiating the slalom course, the cowboys must lasso a person, saddle a horse and cross the finish line in one piece.

Then comes the grand finale downhill, called the Western Stampede. The Stampede is a mass start and is a cowboy free-for-all down Headwall. First one down wins.

"It's a great time," Krick said. "I think it's one of the best times in the whole country."

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