STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colorado — Ski rodeo is a perfect weird sport for Colorado, a place with a long history of ranching, a deep love of skiing and people only too happy to combine the two.
Downhill cowboys, and cowgirls, have been hitting the slopes here for the better part of four decades, and 90 of them came from as far away as France and Australia for the 39th annual Bud Light Cowboy Downhill.
The rules are, as in most weird sports, simple: the first one down Mt. Werner wins. Ingenious. This being a weird sport, however, there’s something you must do before crossing the finish line. Namely, lasso a cowgirl and saddle a horse, of course. There was a time when competitors also would pound a beer, but this was never officially sanctioned and has since been outlawed.
There are two geniuses behind this race. Billy Kidd is a former alpine skiing world champ and Olympic medalist who is the director of skiing at Steamboat. Larry Mahan is a six-time all-around world champion cowboy. Four decades ago, they invited a posse of pro rodeo stars, who’d come to Denver for the annual National Western Stock Show and Rodeo, to try their hand on the slopes. They’ve been doing it ever since. And some of these cowboys have actually skied. Once or twice, anyway.