Cowboy up and head down the slope

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There's one main difference between riding skis and riding rodeo horses, says cowboy Todd Herzog of Alberta, Canada.

"I can control these skis 100 percent," Herzog said. "And I get on those bucking horses, and I have no control."

Herzog, who grew up skiing and now is a saddle bronc rider, had a smooth, fast run down the dual slalom race in the 31st annual Cowboy Downhill held Tuesday afternoon.

Not every cowboy was as confident on skis or a snowboard as Herzog.

It was Jay Slyder's third time skiing and first time competing. Slyder, of Justin, Texas, busted after soaring off a 5-foot jump in the middle of the racecourse.

"This is a little bit more scary to me," he said, comparing skiing to riding bulls. "You're going down pretty fast."

Spectators lined Headwall at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area to watch about 70 professional rodeo cowboys -- taking a break from Denver's National Western Stock Show and Rodeo and all wearing chaps -- fly and slide down the slope.

Rod Rimmer, of Victoria, British Columbia, said he was doing OK until the cowboy he was racing fell. Rimmer tried to turn sideways but got tangled with the other racer. Both Rimmer's skis popped off, and he had to run in for the finish.

Billy Kidd, director of skiing at the Steamboat Ski Area, and Larry Mahan, a pro rodeo cowboy, started the event 31 years ago. Both were at Tuesday's event and kicked it off by racing each other down the mountain.

"Some of these cowboys have been coming for years and years, and they get better," Kidd said. "They actually train for this."

When the event began, skiing down the hill while rounding 12 gates, then roping a Steamboat Ambassador and saddling a horse, was more than enough of a challenge, Kidd said.

But as the cowboys' skiing improved, event organizers decided to add a small jump, about the height of a row of beer cans.

Throughout the years, that jump -- smack in the middle of the racecourse -- has grown to 5 feet tall.

Kyle Bowers, a bareback rider from Alberta, Canada, won the dual slalom event with a time of 29.02 seconds. F. Kyle Daines was second with a time of 29.66 seconds, and Dustin Flundra was third in 29.99 seconds. Both also are from Alberta.

In the dual slalom event, the cowboys raced, two at a time, down the slalom course and over the jump, then had to lasso a woman, saddle a horse and cross the finish line.

After the dual slalom, all 70 cowboys lined up at the top of the course for the Stampede, a free-for-all, mass start race to the bottom. John O'Connor of Loveland won that event.

Dan Miller of Raleigh, N.D., won the title "best crash" with an end-over-end tumble. He fell and rolled after hitting the jump, then ran down to the finish line from halfway up the hill.

Pistol Robinson, a bull rider from Fort Worth, Texas, gave snowboarding a shot but ended up wrecking at the top of the run and again at the bottom.

"I made the jump -- that was the only good part about my run," Robinson said.

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