Cowboys ready to hit slopes in annual event

'Special guest' bull riding star Charles Sampson will don skis for Cowboy Downhill

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— The top rodeo cowboys in the world are waxing up skis to race in the 28th annual Bud Light Cowboy Downhill today, but there is one cowboy who may have an edge on the other competitors.

Bull riding star Charles Sampson is making his 20th trip to Steamboat Springs for the annual event, which features the pro rodeo athletes racing down Headwall in two events.

"You can't not want to go ski in Steamboat," Sampson said.

However, he admits he skis about one time a year in the Cowboy Downhill. His goal is the same as many of the newcomers, just to make it to the bottom without falling.

That goal may not be hard to accomplish, compared to what Sampson already has under his belt buckle.

In 1982, after growing up in the Los Angeles area and working at horse stables, which got him into the rodeo, Sampson became the first African American to be the World Champion Bull Rider. Since then, the rodeo star has made two trips to the White House to meet President Reagan and President Bush, received NBC's Comeback Cowboy of the Year in 1984 and in 1985 after he won the Coors Bull Riding "Chute Out" Championship and was voted Coors Cowboy of the Year in 1986.

Two years after retiring from bull riding in 1994 to teach bull riding skills, Sampson was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs. Today he lives in Aurora and teaches and participates in team roping events across the country.

"He is the perfect ambassador for rodeo," Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. spokeswoman Cathy Wiedemer said.

Ski Corp. treats Sampson with "special guest" status for his many years of participating in the Cowboy Downhill.

"I'll be giving them their money's worth," Sampson joked, promising that he will successfully maneuver the jump in the middle of the course that throws most cowboys to the ground.

Events begin at 1:30 p.m. today on Headwall with a dual slalom race, which features the cowboys lassoing a person and saddling a horse after navigating the slopes. Spectators should keep in mind the first time many of the cowboys competing put on skis will be this morning.

After the slalom race, all the cowboys will race in The Stampede, which is the grand finale of the Cowboy Downhill. The Stampede is an all-out race, with every cowboy starting at the same time and the winner takes all if he gets out of the way of the 100 other cowboys skiing behind him.

Cowboys will be available for autographs after the races.

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