Best of the Boat: Best Cowboy — Ray Heid
November 16, 2017
It's hard to tell whether longtime local Ray Heid is more cowboy or skier. Judging by his tales combining the two, he's equal parts each.
There are his annual spring horsebacking trips to ski Sand Mountain, many during freak lightning storms. "My theory is you're better off staying on your horse — they're always lifting two feet so you have less contact with the ground," he says.
Or the time Warren Miller visited to film horses galloping through the snow, only to have Heid's ride stumble, catapulting him through the air. "He's the best ski filmmaker in the world and he didn't even get the shot," he laments.
Or the perfect figure-eight ski tracks he etches into the hillside above his horse corral north of Clark, where the fourth-generation local run Del's Triangle 3 Ranch.
But it's his affinity for horseback riding that earned him this year's top cowboy in town. "I ride for a living six days a week, ride for the fun of it on Sundays, and then, for vacation, I load up my horse and go somewhere else to ride," says Heid, 80.
Come winter, you'll find him saddling his guest ranch's horses in a hand-sewn, knee-length elk skin coat with beaver pelt collar, topped by a balaclava and cowboy hat. Come summer, he does the same, rain or shine, in a yellow rain slicker, jean jacket and same well-worn cowboy hat. And in the fall, you'll find him leading horsepack trips to hunting camps high in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.
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Even at 80, atop his trusty horse Stormy (whom he says, when leading a pack, will wait to make sure all the other horses make it over a log), he's still as active as ever at his ranching operation, which he's been running since taking it over from his brother in 1985. "One year we named all the horses by the weather," he says, rattling off such names as Breezy, Windy, Sunny and Chinook. "Another year we named them all after spices." His guests often straddle such steeds as Cinnamon, Wasabi and Ginger.
He loves taking people out and showing them why he loves it. "I love the camaraderie of the people, and watching them evolve to love it.. You get out there and hear nothing but the horses' hoofs and breathing and all the wildlife calling, and think 'this is the way to live.'"
He still rides a custom saddle, copied from his grandmother's, that he had built for him in 1993 by former Saddle Maker of the Year Pete Correll. He figures he has more than 36,000 miles on it, riding an average of four hours per day, six days a week for 25 years.
Of course, both his cowboy and skiing heritage owe himself to his upbringing. His grandmother once rode her horse 70 miles in a blizzard from Wolcott to Stagecoach to tend a sick child. His mother, Ruby, was the sister of Steamboat icon Hazie Werner. Brother Corkey qualified for the 1956 Cortina Olympics and headed the Steamboat ski patrol, while brother Del ran the resort's lift department. His son Rowan ("Perk") works on the ranch, as does Perk's wife, Becky, and grandkids Justin and Jason, making six Heid generations leaving their mark in Ski Town USA.
He first donned skis at age 3 to ride the boat tow up Howelsen Hill, and used to ski from his uncle's ranch down to Twentymile Road to catch a ride into town. He became a four-way skier in downhill, slalom, jumping and cross country for the University of Wyoming before making the 1960 Olympic ski jumping team. Now he tries to ski as many days as his age. (It helps that he finally gave up his teles for AT bindings; no longer can friend Billy Kidd, his nemesis at CU while he was coaching at Wyoming, joke about him "not being able to afford the other "heel" half of his binding.")
As we ride north of his ranch, Heid hopping off Stormy like someone a quarter of his age to clear the trail, he gestures north with his head, and his eyes twinkle. "You can ride from here all the way to Wyoming, all on public land," he says. "Not a bad back yard. You completely leave all signs of civilization behind. It’s just like it was here 100 years ago."
As for skiing vs. horseback riding? "I'd hate to ever have to choose," he says.