Dave Shively's outdoors column appears Sundays in the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Contact him at 871-4253 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Ed Duncan started racing horse-drawn chariots back in 1974.
He and some friends would show up to the rodeo grounds on the weekends leading up to the Winter Carnival, when the "old timers that used to race cutters out at the airport in the '60s," showed him the ropes, and the reins, of an exiting, head-to-head, all-out sprint to the finish.
Or so I assume that's how it went.
I'm disappointed I never had a chance to see what I can only imagine to be a "Ben-Hur"-like sight of primed beasts kicking up snow for jeering winter fans.
Just 10 years ago, Duncan said there were 25 Carnival competitor teams from across Northwest Colorado. Now, with too few families actively involved in the sport to practice and safely pack down the 440-yard track, the scheduled event has not been held for the past two Winter Carnivals. This year, it's not even scheduled.
Without a local event, Duncan and his wife, Kathy, would still pack the horses for a few regional events throughout the winter. But those race numbers are dwindling as well, so this winter the Duncans are staying home.
"It's getting to be a lost deal," said Duncan, a third-generation Routt County native, who makes the statement truly sound like he is the last of his kind.
So this year, we get a Red Bull-sponsored "sledstyle" demonstration with two Winter X Games riders back-flipping massive gaps in state-of-art snowmobiles.
When Duncan heard that, he responded, "We're getting to be a ski town instead of Western town."
How do people define what's "Western?"
It's hard to deny that the authentic, agriculture-based, true grit folk behind the image Steamboat pitches are disappearing, but as times change, you could argue that the horse simply is being replaced by horsepower. Take the Routt County Fair. No "traditional" fair event drew as much attention or excitement as the Friday night freestyle motocross exhibition. Whether it's a coincidence, in 2007, two motor sports athletes who did the bulk of their formative training in or near Steamboat won gold medals in both the Summer (Tanner Foust) and Winter (Chris Burandt) X Games.
Perhaps it is simply the vehicle of what helps people here get to them wide open spaces that has changed (and that there's less of that space).
A Wallace Stegner essay I read in a high school history class stuck with me regarding the two defining characteristics of the American West individual: self-reliance and physical competence.
If the blaring motor still is keeping you from being converted, perhaps Duncan can rest assured that there's still a few truly "Western" personalities in the county that still rely on animal power. Oak Creek's Tom Thurston executed a goal that he set four years ago to become a competitive sled dog racer last weekend by winning an elite 200-mile race, and now he is readying his team for a new frontier in Alaska.