Aspen Times Weekly: Cowboy up

by Scott Schlafer

Cowboys, cowgirls, livestock and a handful of spectators gather in Snowmass Village for the town’s first rodeo. Initially created as a small ranch rodeo, the Snowmass Rodeo has since evolved into a timeless family tradition attracting larger crowds every summer for the last 40 years.

When Doug McLain decided to build a rodeo in 1971, he never could have foreseen the event remaining one of Snowmass’ most prominent summer attractions. Born in Wichita, Kan., McLain and his family moved to the Roaring Fork Valley when he was only 5. His family continued relocating around Colorado, but McLain was determined at a young age to return as an outfitter to the Roaring Fork Valley he grew to love.

McLain began his career as an outfitter in 1963 and started managing the T Lazy 7 Stables only six years later. The idea to start a rodeo in Snowmass came to McLain on a trip to Cody, Wyo., where he witnessed the nightly Cody Stampede Rodeo.

“I knew the rodeo was very successful there, so I figured, why not have one here too?” McLain said. “However, it’s the community that is responsible for today’s Snowmass Rodeo, not me. The volunteers have been instrumental in making this last. The rodeo has proved its worth and I hope it goes another 40 years.”

McLain recalled an incident when he lost control of his bulls while they were roaming along Owl Creek Road and they ended up on the Snowmass Club golf course.

“All the cowboys rushed out there to gather up the bulls once they got loose,” McLain said. “It was pretty easy putting out there on the new greens the next day.”

Needless to say, the Snowmass Club managers were angered by the event, but they soon forgave McLain and the rodeo for the clumsy mishap. McLain remembered the accident as an example of the community having to come together to maintain and support the Snowmass Rodeo.

At age 74, McLain still competes in the rodeo’s team-roping event — a horse-riding event focused on precision and partnership to loop one rope around a running steer’s neck and a second around its hind legs. He said he plans on riding for as long as his body allows him to.

Although it was McLain’s idea to build the Snowmass Rodeo, it would not have been possible without the hard work and support from of peers. Of his many ranchers, Twirp Anderson played one of the most pivotal roles in establishing the rodeo.

Anderson helped lay the foundation for the original rodeo arena. Old age has by no means slowed down the dedicated cowboy-musician; at 75 years old, Anderson is still singing and playing his guitar after commuting from Grand Junction for the weekly rodeo.

Even with individuals remaining involved with the rodeo since its founding, the Western-rooted event has still managed to change immensely since it opened in 1973. Arguably no man is more responsible for its development from a local “ranch rodeo” to an attractive resort activity than Bill Burwell.

Bill and his older brother Rod owned and managed the Silvertree Hotel, which is now the Westin Snowmass. Bill said he felt as though he had a stake in Snowmass Village and feared the rodeo would not last much longer under the management of Chris Christopher.

Although diving into the business with zero experience in rodeo production in 1983, Christopher actually managed to further progress the Snowmass Rodeo. Most notably, he added a barbeque dinner to begin before the rodeo events underneath a massive tent. Christopher was successful in promoting the weekly summer event as well as adding sleigh rides for a winter attraction.

However, with his big plans and development came many complications; which proved to be too much for Christopher to handle, causing him to sell back the rodeo in 1993, according to the Snowmass Rodeo program book.

Like Christopher, Bill Burwell also realized the value and necessity of keeping the Snowmass Rodeo alive. The Burwells purchased the lease for the 20-some acres including the rodeo arena and surrounding land from developers Jim Chaffin and Jim Light.

“My main objective was to transform the rodeo into a community event and to keep alive the only scheduled summer event in Snowmass, besides Sunday church,” Bill said.

Burwell had visions to grow and enhance the rodeo by bringing in better livestock and consequently better riders. He hosted free luncheon fundraisers at the Silvertree Hotel to get local companies involved and send their customers to the rodeo. As simple as his strategy was, it worked significantly by raising awareness about the family oriented event. Burwell also brought the Snowmass Western Heritage Association on board to attract additional spectators.

Burwell made the decision for the Snowmass Rodeo to not officially be certified by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). Although it would be relatively simple to get the certification, Burwell made the conscious decision not to because it would require them to host rodeo events he believed to be unsuited for the Snowmass Community. One of such events is steer wrestling, also known as bulldogging, where a cowboy has to chase a steer on his horse and then grab it by its horns and wrestle it to the ground. The cowboys and majority of the Snowmass fans are more than pleased with the rodeo’s lack of certification.

Perhaps Burwell’s best decision as owner of the Rodeo was to hire Harry Vold, 11-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) stock contractor of the year.

“Harry Vold is one of the finest men I’ve ever known,” Burwell said. “Once I got him on board, it was easy getting cowboys to compete. Bull riders wanted to come just to ride Harry Vold’s bulls.”

After some complications with the Snowmass Village Town Council, Burwell sold the rodeo to Snowmass in 2001. “The rodeo should stay running successfully until the vegetarians take over,” Burwell said.

Stock contracting has been the Vold family business for 60 years throughout America and Canada. Harry’s daughter, Darce, came as the stock contractor for the Snowmass Rodeo 16 years ago once Burwell got in touch with her father. She owns a subsidiary to her father’s company with her siblings Doug Vold and Dona Larson—Triple V Rodeo Company.

Darce has been promoted to Executive Director of the Snowmass Rodeo last fall in addition to being the stock contractor. Although she is largely responsible for the rodeo production, Vold attributes the rodeo’s success to the many dedicated volunteers.

Jim Snyder is arguably the rodeo’s most important and devoted volunteer. Having been involved with the rodeo for more than 30 years, Snyder has taken the role as arena manager for the past 16 summers.

“Small town rodeos like we have here in Snowmass are full of loyal locals with great dedication to the community,” Snyder said. The majority of people who attend are returning tourists who take time out of their year to come see the Snowmass Rodeo, according to Snyder.

Having stayed around for 40 years despite a couple of hurdles and rough patches, those involved with the Snowmass Rodeo are confident it will remain for at least another 40.

The Snowmass Rodeo grounds open every Wednesday during the summer at 5 p.m.. for a barbeque and some fun activities. The rodeo events begin at 7. Events include bareback riding, team roping, mutton bustin’, saddle bronc riding, calf scramble, dally ribbon roping, burro racing, barrel racing, and of course, bull riding.

Twirp Anderson: The heart and soul of the Snowmass Rodeo

If the Snowmass Rodeo had its soul embodied in a single individual, that man would be Twirp Anderson. Having constructed the original rodeo arena, Anderson has been the voice of the Snowmass Rodeo for the past 40 years.

Now 75 years old, Anderson recently moved to Grand Junction to be closer to his only grandchild. He said his family is his top priority in life at his age. Despite the distance, he continues to commute more than two hours every Wednesday to sing and participate in the Snowmass Rodeo.

“Family is what makes the rodeo so successful,” Anderson said. “People can bring their kids down here and enjoy the evening, you can’t go golfing or do a lot of other things like this with your kids.”

Having grown up on a ranch near Lewiston, Idaho, Anderson learned to ride horses before he began going to school. Although his birth certificate reads “Adrian Anderson,” Twirp got his nickname when he was not even 1-day-old on his way home from the hospital when a hired man on his ranch said, “Look at that little twirp.” After that he was given the nickname, which he still uses at 75.

Although he enjoyed his work on a ranch, his calling was not riding horses but rather as a musician singing and playing guitar. Anderson moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1966 to follow his passion for music. Once he realized his career as a musician could not pay the bills, he began shodding horses (putting shoes on their hooves) for Doug McLain — a job he would keep for 41 years.

“I was working for Doug McLain at Snowmass Stables in 1971 when he came up with the concept of having a rodeo here,” Anderson said. “I dug the very first holes for the original arena.”

Anderson was the first rodeo announcer until he gave up his position in 2011 after 38 years of announcing. Now his main occupation is singing classic country songs with his guitar at the rodeo barbecue and afterward at the campfire.

One of his many highlights was back in August 1997 when the rodeo had set up a massive sound system in the arena for a John Denver performance. What made it so special was that the concert was the last time locals were able to see Denver perform, as it was just two months prior to his fatal plane crash.

Having witnessed the Snowmass Rodeo through all its ups and downs, Anderson is strongly optimistic about its future.

“Because of the increase in attendance over the years, I would say it indicates the future of the rodeo is good and secure,” Anderson said.

Darce Vold: For the love of the job

Every person yearns for a job he or she loves doing, and no one has been more successful in this quest than Darce Vold. As a third-generation stock contractor, Vold came to Snowmass 16 years ago and has since taken control of the Snowmass Rodeo as both its executive director and stock contractor.

“I like to work, I work endlessly and tirelessly. I truly love the rodeo business, it’s my passion, it’s what I do, and it’s who I am. Taking on the executive directorship was just another part of life that helps make the rodeo business even better.” Vold said. “My dad is remarkable. He still rides his horse in the arena at 89; he is never tired and never quits, so how could I? He sets the bar pretty high for the family.”

Vold worked for her father’s company for some time before forming the Triple V Rodeo Company, a subsidiary of the Harry Vold Rodeo Company, with her siblings Dona Larson and Doug Vold. Doug currently holds the world record for the highest score of 95 points in a saddle bronc ride back in 1979. Their company is based in Southern Colorado on a massive ranch with more than 1,000 horses and bulls. Although the three Volds own it together, they each handle their own rodeo contracts independently. Vold said her passion for the rodeo industry comes from dealing with the livestock.

“They’re just like your children; you watch them perform, you watch them grow up, you develop a breeding program, and you’re just so proud of them,” Vold said. “There is also the disappointment when they don’t perform at your expectations. That’s why I do it, for the love of the animals and the livestock.”

For the other nine months of the year — during the rodeo’s offseason — Vold works at her ranch taking care of her livestock. After taking on the position as executive director last fall, she has also added on a yearlong list of duties to ensure the rodeo’s success for the following summer. Vold is also continuing the family tradition with her daughter, Katie, who commutes five hours every week to come assist her mother at the rodeo.

“People love the simplicity and the honesty of the Western way of life. If you can take an evening and come with your family to enjoy it without having any worries — it’s just simple, and people enjoy that,” Vold said. “I see this rodeo continuing to get bigger and stronger every year. It has potential for unlimited growth. And particularly when the community and town rally behind us — it can be spectacular.”

Jim Snyder: The man that makes it happen

This summer being his 17th consecutive year as the arena manager, Jim Snyder’s work is critical to the rodeo’s weekly success. Snyder’s duties include making sure everyone shows up and that each event runs smoothly and in a timely manner. “I manage everything that happens inside the arena,” Snyder said.

Although Snyder’s role as arena manager entails a great deal of work and commitment, the position is actually unpaid. Snyder said he often has to deal with unnecessary stress instead of being able to sit back and enjoy the rodeo like he used to.

Snyder grew up outside of Pittsburgh and moved to Colorado in 1977 for better skiing conditions. Aside from his passion for snow, Snyder stayed true to his cowboy roots as he began working for the Owl Creek Ranch.

“When I grew up I was always with horses,” Snyder said. “My dad used to get every horse that nobody else wanted, big mean horses, and he used to put me on them and help me break them.”

Prior to breaking his pelvis on two separate occasions, Snyder competed in team roping and saddle bronc riding at the rodeo. Although he no longer rides, he puts his experience with the rodeo industry to work as the arena manager. Having participated in the rodeo in some manner for more than 30 years, Snyder has his doubts but remains hopeful that it will persist for many years to come.

“I would love to think that the rodeo will still be going on 40 years from now. I just don’t quite know; the property is so valuable for something to only last 10-12 weeks,” Snyder said. “However, there’s really nothing better to put in front of the town than rodeo grounds.”

Snyder expressed a desire for Snowmass to turn the grounds into more of a multipurpose building to host various events. That way the Rodeo can ensure its existence while the area can be used in the winter as well. Aside from the family attraction, Snyder said the Western way of life is so unique that people are compelled to return to the rodeo week after week.

“The one thing about rodeo cowboys, they are the people that when you drive down the road and get a flat tire, they’re the ones stopping to help you fix it. They won’t look the other way,” Snyder said. “That’s how it’s always been in this business and that’s what attracts people to the rodeo.”

Nathan Oetter: A real-life rodeo cowboy

The Snowmass Rodeo could never have succeeded if not for its loyal, skilled cowboys traveling across Colorado to compete in the weekly event. Having started riding at the late age of 21, Nathan Oetter has been a bronc rider since 2001. Oetter does not ride for the little money he can win, or for any fame, but rather for the simplistic love of the Western way of life and the few perfect rides he gets to enjoy on the wild horses.

Oetter, 33, grew up in Carefree, Ariz., and moved to El Jebel in 2000 to work for an outfitter and escape the unbearable Arizona heat. He said he chose bronc riding because it’s a classic event and bareback riding is too hard on the body. However, his friend at the rodeo made sure to note that “bareback riding is only for badasses; Nate is too sweet to ride bareback.”

“Each event fits everyone’s own style, and bronc riding is what I enjoy doing,” Oetter said.

Most cowboys learn to ride at a young age, but Oetter did not start until 21 and said it was a very rough and difficult learning process. His hard work finally paid off when he won his first buckle after five years of competing. A buckle is won by the cowboy who accumulates the most points at the end of the season; thus making it a very challenging feat to accomplish.

Similar to the other competing cowboys at the rodeo, Oetter views prize money as a nice bonus but depends on his job at a dude ranch for steady income.

“Horse-shoeing is my main occupation, that’s where I make my money, not at the rodeo,” Oetter said.

One may wonder why someone would subject their body to considerable duress and a high chance of injury. Oetter says the feeling he gets from a good, clean ride is an unparalleled euphoria.

“There’s always that ride — when everything comes together, it grabs you, and brings you back,” Oetter said. “You’re gonna have a lot of horses that aren’t so great and rides that aren’t so great. Then you get that ride that everything clicks, and it’s like man, I want that feeling again. I mean it’s fun to win and hang out with all the guys around here, but it’s really about those perfect rides.”