Tuesday, January 22, 2002
Steamboat Springs After watching the Cowboy Downhill for two years, Steamboat's Michael Sisk found the best strategy for winning the stampede.
It was cheating.
"You get started early and stay out of the way to win it," Sisk said about his success on his home hill.
But getting a head start or taking out the cowboy in the lead is not much of a secret in the race where more than 80 cowboys start together in a free-for-all on skis and snowboards down Mount Werner's Headwall.
And, true to Sisk's winning formula, the stampede usually begins with the first cowboy out.
"It's all about cheating. Whoever leads first wins it," said Robert Bowers, a bareback and bull rider from Alberta, Canada, and last year's Cowboy Downhill dual slalom champion.
Taking a break from the National Western Rodeo and Stock Show held in Denver, the pro rodeo riders traded cowboy boots for ski boots but kept on the chaps and hats for the 28th annual Bud Light Cowboy Downhill.
On a pair of skis once worn by U.S. skier Craig Thrasher in a World Cup event, Sisk won the stampede. Sisk, a orthopedic surgeon in Steamboat, watched the Cowboy Downhill from the sidelines last year and took notes.
While Sisk claims he might not have the same luck at the Denver stock show as a saddle bronc rider, he still has the bragging rights of being a winner in the stampede race.
Although the cash is in Denver, cowboys claim the Cowboy Downhill is one of the highlights of the season.
"Shoot, a lot of guys I know just enter Denver so they can come up here," Cheyenne bull rider Jed Moore said.
The 1997 Canadian Champion Bull Rider, Bowers talks about it all year and sees it as a chance to one up his traveling partner, Rod Bell.
"We've raced against each other for four years. It's now 3-1. And I'm just happy with beating Rob," Bowers said.
Although Bowers, who started skiing at a young age, did not retain his title, his partner took home a second place in the dual slalom, a race that had cowboys navigate their way through gates, go over a jump, lasso a cowgirl and saddle a horse.
Murt Stewart, a team roper from California, won the event in 31.66 seconds.
While the Cowboy Downhill is the main attraction, some of the cowboys plan to get in some extra days of skiing and take advantage of the snow that dumped on Tuesday before heading back to Denver.
"To see this snow is killer. This is sweet. Tomorrow if I'm not too hungover, I'm going to hit it pretty hard," said Colorado's Casey Miller, sounding more like a ski bum than a cowboy.
Miller, who says he snowboards about 50 days a year, is just one of many in the new breed of cowboys that already know how to navigate the slopes before coming to Steamboat.
Doug Vold, who entered the first Cowboy Downhill in 1974 and 25 others, said the cowboys did not always know how to ski.
"When I first came, nobody knew how to ski," Vold said.
Although he claims his skiing has not improved over the years, Vold, who once held the highest score for saddle bronc riding, said now he brings his family to Steamboat for a week of skiing.
"It's the best fun in the world," he said.