John F. Russell: Cowboy Downhill brings smiles

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John Russell

John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by John here.

— It was hard to escape Jed Moore's warm, broad smile as he stood at the base of Steamboat Ski Area following Tuesday's Cowboy Downhill.

At first glance, he looked more like an Olympic ski racer who had just cruised to the gold medal in the slalom, but the cowboy hat and chaps were a strong reminder that he was a gritty rodeo cowboy willing to trade his weekends and travel across the country in search of that profitable, but often elusive, 8-second ride.

His smile also revealed the fun-loving personality - and the fact he was missing a few of his teeth - that has made the American cowboy legendary in this part of the country.

It's that cowboy legend that has drawn spectators to the base of Steamboat Ski Area to witness the Cowboy Downhill for the past 35 years.

For me, it simply proves that cowboys have more appeal, at least here in Steamboat Springs, than other professional athletes.

Can you imagine a Pro Golfers Downhill? Or how about an NFL Players Association Downhill?

I wonder if people would show the same amount of excitement if it was Tiger Woods or Sergio Garcia streaking down the slopes and leaping over a pro-style jump. The ski area would have to incorporate some sort of putt-putt golf challenge at the end, and, of course, only soft-spikes would be allowed on the racecourse. Nobody wants to damage those finely groomed slopes with metal spikes.

Getting professional football players to come to Steamboat Springs for a ski race the same week of the Super Bowl would be a challenge - but I understand the entire Denver Broncos lineup is available once again this year.

Of course, none of the athletes in those sports would match the fun-factor of the rodeo cowboy.

I mean, how many professional athletes would agree to put their bodies on the line after the first major event of their season for an event such as the downhill?

Can you imagine Kobe Bryant risking his entire basketball season for something as crazy as a ski race? I bet you couldn't get Jay Cutler to take a risk like that in the pre-season - not even for a charity boxing match against San Diego's Philip Rivers.

But cowboys are different.

Despite the fact that the National Western Stock Show marks the first major rodeo of the season, they always seem to show up in force for an event where the best crash carries just as much weight as the winning time, and the finale is a crazy no-holds-barred race from the top of the hill to the bottom with 64 cowboys on the course at the same time.

Maybe they show up because the results of this race are measured in the cheers from the crowd and smiles from competitors. It also might be the reason that legendary rodeo cowboys have a reputation for being fun-loving.

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