Video from the 2007 Winter Carnival Donkey Jump competition
Steamboat Springs The key to Saturday's Dog and Dad Dash event was a good throwing arm.
"Last year, I threw the tennis ball crooked and took out three other teams," said Jerry Schmidt, who this year used better form for a straight toss down the center of a snow-covered Lincoln Avenue.
The ball, of course, was thrown toward the dog dash finish line so Schmidt's black Labrador retriever, Rocky, would chase it down. Attached to Rocky's collar was a rope tied to a sled ridden by Schmidt's 4 1/2-year-old son, Slade.
The duo easily was the most entertaining team to compete in Saturday's 25-yard dash, an annual staple of the Winter Carnival street events in downtown Steamboat Springs. Unfortunately, they weren't the winners.
Rocky won the cheers of the crowd as he chased after the ball while toting Slade behind him on a red sled. After reaching the ball and sliding to a stop, Rocky was hit from behind by Slade and his red sled. Slade tumbled from the snow craft, and Rocky took off in the opposite direction of the finish line.
"That dog is definitely ball-motivated," Schmidt said.
The dog dash was one of a 10 signature street events that drew hundreds of spectators to downtown Steamboat to watch,
among other things, children skiing and snowboarding while being pulled by galloping horses, grown men careening down the course while riding on shovel blades, and fathers dropping to all fours to pull their sled-riding kids.
"These fathers are out of control when they're pulling their children on sleds," said Tom Whiddon, public address announcer for Saturday's street events. "All you can hear is 'Go, dads, go.'"
The street events are part of this weekend's 94th annual Winter Carnival, a Steamboat tradition that began as a way to give ranchers and their families the opportunity to enjoy long Routt County winters by participating in a variety of games and competitions.
Today's street events are from 9 a.m. to noon, and the Diamond Hitch Parade on Lincoln Avenue is at 11:30 a.m. There also is a Parent-Child Downhill ski race at Howelsen Hill.
For longtime Routt County resident Patsy Wilhelm and her family, being involved in the Winter Carnival street events is a way to preserve their rich ranching history and ties to the carnival.
"In one way or another, I've been skiing or pulling skiers for 58 years," Wilhelm said Saturday. Wilhelm spent the day pulling skiers down Lincoln Avenue from the saddle of her galloping horse. "Before me, my dad rode."
In 2001, after she won the 88th annual Winter Carnival Western Heritage Award, Wilhelm said she was "getting too old for this" and that she likely wouldn't participate after the 2002 carnival. That was five years ago.
"The kid in me just keeps me coming back," she said.
Patsy Wilhelm's son, Lynn Wilhelm, said he appreciates how Winter Carnival brings together Routt County's diverse population, including ranchers and athletes.
"You see all walks of our community here," he said. "It's important for us to maintain the longevity and history of the tradition."
Patsy Wilhelm's ties to local history are apparent when she names some of the young skiers she has pulled over the years.
"I've pulled all the Werners," she said with a smile, referring to the legendary local ski family.
Although the young Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club skiers and snowboarders who raced down Lincoln Avenue might not always remember the men and women - or horses - that led them to victory, they are appreciative.
Jasper Good, 10, took first place in Saturday's skijoring event, in which a horse pulls a rider through a flat course. Jasper credited his win to a speedy horse.
"I didn't catch the (horse's) name, but I'm sure I probably won because of him," he said.