Roper has rodeo in the blood |

Roper has rodeo in the blood

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Doug McLain exudes a quiet passion for rodeo; he is soft-spoken, his voice quiet.

He leans against the railing at Gus Darien Arena next to his 11-year-old horse, Stoney ” the horse he raised, trained and has competed on for several years. McLain’s tone is gentle, but one only needs to see him crack a smile under his cowboy hat and mustache to realize just how much he loves what he does. It’s that love that also led him to create the Snowmass weekly rodeo, a staple since 1973.

“I love the competition,” the 67-year-old McLain says. “I love doing things I can do with horses. There’s real satisfaction in training one yourself and then winning on him.”

McLain is a man of many talents ” he ran outfitters around the Roaring Fork Valley for several years, and friends say he’s not a bad singer, either. But those things never quite gripped him like rodeo.

“It’s something that gets in your blood,” McLain says. “It’s just like any other sport.”

Of course, this week’s rodeo ” part of the Carbondale Wild West Rodeo Series every Thursday ” gives him a chance to enjoy the friends he’s made over the years, too. For these cowboys, camaraderie is just as important as the competition.

“All of these people here I haven’t seen all winter,” McLain says. “I don’t think I have any enemies,” he adds with a grin.

McLain is a team roper ” an event with two men, two horses and a steer. It’s also an event that takes more than just a little concentration.

“They all got to come together just right to make it work,” McLain says. “Having a good horse is one of the first things you need.”

The event is timed, with one rider having to lasso the steer around its neck, the other having to maneuver one around the steer’s hind legs. It’s tougher than it sounds ” rider after rider lassoed dirt. But on McLain’s first two runs, he snagged both rear legs. Good runs, he said ” but the second wasn’t quite fast enough.

While roping takes a whole lot of skill and practice, it’s not quite as dangerous as bareback bronco riding or bullriding. Just ask McLain, who did both for a few years when he was younger. But he hung up his bareback ridin’ boots in 1973.

“[It] was one of the dumbest things I’ve done,” he says. “You get a little older and remember all the places you hit.”

McLain had too many other things to worry about and didn’t want getting injured on a bucking bronco to be one of them. But he recalls how much different it was when he rode ” now, competitors are judged on a variety of qualities.

“It wasn’t near as technical back then … you pretty much just had to stay on,” McLain says.

But perhaps more important than the four professional competitions he’s won, or the nine saddles and 50 belt buckles he’s accrued over the years, is his gift to the Roaring Fork Valley: the weekly Snowmass rodeo.

It was a risk for him to build the arena back in 1973 ” the town of Snowmass wouldn’t foot the bill. But it did agree to buy it back from McLain if the idea worked.

“I just felt there was a need for something for kids to do,” McLain says. “They bought it back two weeks after we started.”

The rodeo hasn’t missed a scheduled Wednesday since its inception. It was the first weekly rodeo in the state; now there’s about six or seven, McLain estimates. Walking past Prada and Gucci in downtown Aspen, though, it’s easy to underestimate how popular rodeo is in the valley.

“I think people don’t have any idea how many people are involved in it,” McLain says. He knows bankers, real estate agents, contractors ” all of whom ditch the suit once a week to put on a cowboy hat.

“For rodeo in the valley, he started it,” says Robb Van Pelt, who has known McLain since about 1973. “He had a great place for it. It was a little funky at first, but we made it work.”

But his friends say he wouldn’t accept much credit for his dedication, despite all he’s done to strengthen rodeo in the valley.

“He’s very modest,” Max Macdonell says. “A lot of humility about him.”

Besides, the maverick spirit in the air as McLain leans against the railing next to Stoney isn’t something one man can create. But it is something one man can help keep alive, even though it will exist long after he’s gone.

“It’s kind of a way of life,” McLain says.

Greg Schreier’s e-mail address is

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