Cowboy Downhill turns 30

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Steamboat's famous ski runs and the town's Western heritage provide the perfect setting for perhaps the most unique gathering of rodeo cowboys in the world.

Tuesday marks the 30th anniversary of the Cowboy Downhill, one of Steamboat Ski Area's most popular -- and comical -- annual events.

Past and present rodeo champions and other cowboys make their way to Steamboat from the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver to take a brief break from the serious competition.

"The Cowboy Downhill all started back in 1974 when Larry Mahan, six-time All-Around World Champion cowboy, and I decided it would be fun to invite a few of the Pro Rodeo stars from the Denver Stock Show up to Steamboat for a day of skiing and racing fun," said Billy Kidd, Steamboat's director of skiing. "The Downhill has become an event highlight of the rodeo season and one of the most unique ski events in the country."

In the early years of the Cowboy Downhill, the cowboys struggled mightily on skis, providing amusement to the spectators who lined the course. Nowadays, first-time skiers still compete -- and still struggle mightily on skis -- but a number of the cowboy racers have become capable skiers and snowboarders.

And, as always, the rodeo cowboys come to compete, no matter what their comfort level is on snow.

The Cowboy Downhill begins with a unique dual slalom race at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday on Headwall run. After negotiating the gates set up on the run, the cowboys must lasso a person and saddle a horse before crossing the finish line.

The grand finale of the Cowboy Downhill, and perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the afternoon, is the Stampede.

In a mass start, the skiing and snowboarding cowboys race down Headwall in the winner-take-all event.

The 30th annual Cowboy Downhill, sponsored by Bud Light, is more than just two races. Afternoon activities also include a western celebration in Gondola Square featuring a pair of the famous Budweiser Clydesdales, the Routt County Woolens, a 4-H petting zoo, a learn-to-rope clinic and food and refreshments at The Bear River Bar and Grill.

After the races, the Pro Rodeo cowboys will be on hand to sign autographs, as well.

Tuesday's festivities conclude with a concert by Chris LeDoux at 9 p.m. in the music tent at the ski area base. Proceeds from the concert benefit the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund, which helps injured professional rodeo cowboys and cowgirls and their families.

LeDoux is a famous country-Western singer and a World Champion bareback bronc rider.

Advanced tickets are $30 and are on sale at All That Jazz, Mount Werner Sinclair, Gondola Square SportStalker and through Steamboat Central Reservations at 800-922-2722.

"Steamboat is proud to welcome back, for the second time in four years, Chris LeDoux," said Andy Wirth, vice president of sales and marketing for Steamboat. "Chris performed for a sold-out crowd at the 26th annual Bud Light Cowboy Downhill and again this year. With Chris LeDoux's participation, the Cowboy Downhill will once again make a sizeable donation to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund."

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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