Rowdy Cowboy Downhill back at ski area for 41st running | SteamboatToday.com

Rowdy Cowboy Downhill back at ski area for 41st running

Ben Ingersoll

Boomer Reeves, of Florida, was one of many cowboys to take a nasty spill in last year's Cowboy Downhill. The annual winter-favorite event is back at Steamboat Ski Area on Monday.

— Professional steer wrestler Blake Knowles has made some of his best friends on the rodeo circuit, a constantly-on-the-road career that has plenty of down time between competitions.

But those friends are a bit different, Knowles explained. They’re after the same goal: a National Finals Rodeo spot and a season championship. They are friends and enemies at the same time, where a buddy also is your fierce competitor.

The annual Cowboy Downhill event at Steamboat Ski Area creates another type of friendship, one that Knowles has equal endearment for. Sure, it’s a collection of champion-level cowboys gathered in one place just as a rodeo is. And there also are winners crowned.

"But it seems when we get up here to Steamboat, we get out of that competitive realm, that rodeo realm," Knowles said. "You get to know them beyond rodeo and more on a personal level. I’ve made a lot of great friends up here because of this event."

Knowles calls the Cowboy Downhill a "once-in-a-rodeo-career" type of event, but once you have a small taste, it’s hard not to come back. The Heppner, Oregon, native is making Monday his third Cowboy Downhill.

"Usually, you go once and once you get up here you say you’re never missing it again," Knowles said.

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The event in its 41st year originally was started when Steamboat Director of Skiing and 1964 Olympic silver medalist Billy Kidd and friend and world champion cowboy Larry Mahan invited some rodeo friends to the valley for some fun on the slopes. Always a party atmosphere, the cowboys kept coming back, and what blossomed was a raucous party and family friendly atmosphere that Kidd calls one of the must-see winter events.

"It really makes people laugh," Kidd said during the weekend, speaking from the National Western Stock Show in Denver. "Whenever you see somebody who’s the best in the world, doing something they aren’t very good at, our guests on the slopes really enjoy watching it."

Hundreds of spectators line the fences at the ski area base to watch the timed slalom event followed by the crowd favorite stampede, where the dozens of participating cowboys barrel down the hill simultaneously and hit a jump, daring to attempt a landing.

As fun as the crowd has watching many of the cowboys strap into skis for the first time in their lives, it’s usually all business to the rodeo-minded participants, Kidd said.

"Whenever you get two or three cowboys together doing anything, you’ve got a contest," Kidd said. "Who can drink the most beer? Who can dance on the tables the longest? This fits right in with their frame of mind."

The Monday events kick off at 11 a.m. in Gondola Square with a 4-H petting zoo, a beginner’s roping clinic and more. The Cowboy Downhill starts at 1 p.m., followed by a free concert by Locash Cowboys on the Steamboat Stage. An awards banquet will be held at 7 p.m. at the top of the gondola.

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll