Snowmass wranglers look to the future of Western heritage as season winds down

Rodeo wraps up with final events of the season on Aug. 18

Young, aspiring cowboys hang on the gates at the Snowmass Rodeo on Wednesday, June 23, 2021.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Emma Haines, 9 years old and on her first-ever trip “out West,” didn’t take long to get the hang of the lasso at the second-to-last Snowmass Rodeo of the season Aug. 11.

Haines was in town from New Jersey. Her mom, Kerry, who has family in Basalt and grew up attending rodeos in the valley where her uncle competed, said they came to the Snowmass for the festivities in part so she could share the experiences she had as a kid with her daughter.

It was early in the evening still, but so far everything Emma had tried was a hit: seeing the cows, making the rounds of the grounds, practicing those lasso skills.

“I love it,” Emma said. Kerry agreed: “We’re having a ball.”

The Haines weren’t the only ones sharing an inter-generational appreciation for the rodeo. It’s not uncommon to see grandparents, parents and kids all participating as competitors or staffers; wranglers follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents and pass that knowledge to their children, too.

Take Darce Vold, for instance: The executive director of the Snowmass Western Heritage Association that organizes the Snowmass Rodeo has been involved in the local shindig for nearly a quarter century and has deep roots in ranching culture.

Her father was in the business for decades, and her grandfather too; all of her siblings are still in the ranching and rodeo scene and Vold’s daughter, now the Snowmass Rodeo secretary, has been involved for nearly 20 years.

“That’s what we have known for our whole life,” Vold said in an interview at the rodeo grounds.

The history is likely enough to carry on to cowpokes-to-be, too: In a record-breaking season for attendance that has counted as many as 2,000 to 3,000 ticket holders through the gates some weeks, upward of a quarter of all rodeo-goers are children under the age of 10, Vold said.

This season’s sizable showings are a sign that the rodeo is more popular than ever, according to Vold.

Jim Snyder, the president of the board for the Snowmass Western Heritage Association, shared much of the same in interviews at the rodeo this week, citing standing-room-only crowds and now-weekly attendance numbers that match the biggest rodeos of years past as a testament to the community and visitors’ desire to have a rodeo in Snowmass Village.

Crowds watch the Snowmass Rodeo on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

The stats have more than allayed the association’s initial worries about attendance or participation taking a dip after last year’s pandemic hiatus and the uncertainty of summer COVID-19 regulations.

But the numbers also brought to the forefront an ongoing concern among rodeo board members about changes to the grounds that could occur with a proposed overhaul of the Town Park entryway. The master plan to revamp the rodeo grounds and adjacent recreation spaces was approved in March, but the details of a permanent facility with multipurpose uses on the rodeo grounds has been and remains a sticking point in the review process.

According to Snyder and Vold, the current proposed plans for the Town Park entryway would make it near-impossible to operate the rodeo in a functional capacity; the footprint is already about as small as it could be while still accommodating contestants and attendees, they said.

“My concern is that we will run out of room — we can’t get smaller, because our numbers are growing,” Vold said.

In his 28 years with the Snowmass Rodeo, Snyder said one of the biggest changes over the years has been the space allotted to those rodeo grounds; he feels that the rodeo is getting “squeezed out” and worries that the proposed entryway plans squeeze even tighter.

Conversations about the rodeo and Town Park are ongoing. Town council members have repeatedly affirmed a commitment to ensure a place for the rodeo in Snowmass Village, but planners continue to grapple with multiple interests and limited space in a situation Town Manager Clint Kinney has repeatedly described as an effort to fit “10 pounds of stuff into a 5-pound sack.”

There’s more at stake than a few hours of Wednesday night festivities for a couple of months in the summer, according to Snyder.

In Snowmass Village, a strong sponsorship base backs the annual six-figure sums that go to prize money for competitors and strong ticket sales have ensured operations are in the black, Snyder said. That’s not the case in other Western communities, especially those where the economy isn’t as bustling as it is in mountain town boom beneficiaries like Snowmass Village, he said.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever, and that’s what happens with rodeos,” he said.

Perry Will, a longtime Snowmass Rodeo participant and state legislator from New Castle, stands near the gates of the stadium on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

Preserving the region’s ranching and rodeo roots is at the core of the event. It’s a sentiment shared by a number of rodeo long-timers who come to Snowmass on Wednesday nights, including state legislator and former state wildlife officer Perry Will; he’s been coming to the Snowmass Rodeo for more than three decades and hopes it will stick around for the long term.

“We need to maintain our Western heritage and our rural way of life, and we’re losing that. … That’s what made America,” Will said.

The final Snowmass Rodeo of the season takes place Wednesday at the rodeo grounds in Town Park. Grounds open at 5 p.m. and competition begains at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at the gate and online at