Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Joel here.
It's easy to be cynical about Steamboat Springs' claim as a living, breathing Western town.
No matter what the marketing propaganda would lead you to believe, Steamboat often seems as much a cowboy haven as MTV does.
The background of Steamboat Ski Area's Web site is a picture of an old barn, and images of cowboys are never more than a click away. And that weekly rodeo - is it more of a show than a competition? Is it just a town's desperate attempt to have something to point to and say, "Look at us. We're real cowboys"? Does the town's cowboy culture really extend beyond Billy Kidd's famous hat?
It's easy to say no, but time and again, the answer is just the opposite.
Steamboat has staked its claim as an incubator for Olympians - not sure whether you've heard, but Ski Town USA has produced more athletes for the red, white and blue than anywhere else - Steamboat is a place for ski bums and a resort for the wealthy.
But Steamboat still can turn out some mighty fine cowboys, too. And we're not just talking about guys who sit in the stands every weekend at Brent Romick Rodeo Arena.
Take Travis Darling, for example.
The 20-year-old saddle bronc rider practically grew up at the Steamboat rodeo grounds. He watched his father ride as a pickup man and eventually fostered the skills to take to the ring himself.
He rode Friday and Saturday night with chances to win the season saddle bronc title and the Pat Mantle saddle bronc riding competition.
He made it clear, too, that his long-term plans for riding broncos extend far beyond the grounds where he watched so many rodeos. He hopes to strike it big riding saddle bronc around the nation.
A true Western atmosphere was obvious elsewhere this weekend, too.
Amber Salazar, a 6-year-old Pee Wee barrel racer from Hayden, held a one-point lead on 8-year-old Paige Barnes on Saturday night heading into their final ride.
The two young cowgirls spent the entire 10-week Steamboat rodeo season competing back and forth, with Amber trying to defend her 2008 summer championship atop her trusty steed, Brownie, and Paige attempting to chase her down on Ranger.
They're probably still pocketing the occasional dollar from the tooth fairy, but they've been saddling up every week and competing in the most Western of sports in downtown Steamboat Springs.
Maybe Steamboat residents aren't afraid to don Stetsons and call themselves cowboys from time to time. Maybe sometimes that can look a bit ridiculous. But somewhere beneath that faÃ§ade, there is still plenty of true blue Western blood.