Aspen Times Weekly: Cowboy Country |

Aspen Times Weekly: Cowboy Country

Photos by Anna Stonehouse
The Aspen Times


Few events can successfully cater to and entertain 4-year-olds and 84-year-olds alike.

But the Snowmass Rodeo isn’t like most events, rodeo volunteer Caroline Gibson explained.

“We offer a different kind of entertainment,” Gibson said. “It’s a window into the past and a window into the history of ranching, cowboys and the West.”

Snowmass Tourism director Rose Abello said she cannot overstate the “incredible impression” the Snowmass Rodeo leaves on international visitors.

“Very few other countries have anything like rodeos. Most think that this staple of American West is a thing of the past,” she said.

But she was quick to note that the rodeo isn’t just for visitors.

“It’s also a huge and important community event,” Abello added.

Deborah Breen, who doubles as a rodeo regular and president of Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation, said she attends the rodeo every week during the summer to gets her “horse and cowboy fix.”

Breen said she loves to bring her friends, family and co-workers to the Snowmass Rodeo.

“It’s a nice break from civilization,” Aspen native Coco Writer said.


Pig out before the show (starting at 5 p.m.) with a special Western-style barbecue prepared by Conundrum Catering.

The local catering company whips up a variety of mouthwatering meats and sides, including St. Louis-style ribs, chicken, cheeseburgers, pulled-pork sandwiches, coleslaw and baked beans.

After all, it isn’t the group’s first rodeo, either.

In the early 1980s and ‘90s, Conundrum Catering owner Kip Feight and executive chef Thomas Jaggi served food at the Snowmass Western Heritage Rodeo.


The nonprofit Snowmass Western Heritage Rodeo formed in 2003 as a way to preserve and keep alive Snowmass Village and the Roaring Fork Valley’s Western heritage.

The organization produces the Snowmass Rodeo each week, along with a whole team of staff members that includes the arena director and crew, livestock contractors, flag carriers, announcers, judges and, of course, the contestants.

Volunteers also play a critical role in the show’s success, as well.

“It just would not be possible without all of the locals who support it and the volunteers who give of their time each week,” Abello said.

In addition to its events, the Snowmass Rodeo also features a free petting zoo, a mechanical bull for the more courageous rodeo-goers, an inflatable bouncy house and vendors who offer a gamut of goods from homemade fudge to handmade jewelry.

In 2016, the rodeo started featuring a singer from the Aspen Music Festival to serenade the national anthem.

“It is incredible and oftentimes leaves me with chills,” Gibson said.

As one rodeo-goer pointed out, the sense of patriotism felt at an old-fashioned American rodeo is hard to miss.

“It’s all about being an American,” said New Jersey resident Howard Siegel, who attended the Snowmass Rodeo — his first rodeo — last July. “I loved it.”


Stick around for a sing-along around the campfire led by rodeo aficionado Twirp Anderson, who has been involved with the Snowmass Rodeo since its inception 44 years ago.

– by Erica Robbie

“The ranch life is not all glitz and glamour, it comes with responsibility, hard work and long days,” says Parker Nieslanik, whose family has owned and operated Nieslanik Beef out of Carbondale since 1960; the family tree includes Parker, his wife Cara, and Johnny Nieslanik (third generation), Marty and his wife Jerilyn (second generation) and Grandpa John (first generation).

“There aren’t many of us left not only in this valley… but nation wide,” Parker says. “It was the best childhood and upbringing a kid could have and I had it. I consider myself to be lucky. I would love nothing more to than to keep the tradition or better said lifestyle going for generations to come.”

In this week’s cover story, photographer Anna Stonehouse follows the Nieslaniks as they drive their 350 head of cattle across the valley — and through the town of Carbondale — in a glimpse of the Wild West not often seen these days.

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