Back in the saddle
Editor’s note: There are countless stories and characters connected with the Snowmass Rodeo. This article seeks to provide some of that 40-year history and the perspectives of some of the people being honored at the July 3 rodeo.
On June 13, 1973, cowboys, cowgirls, livestock and some spectators gathered for the first Snowmass Rodeo. Doug McLain had seen a weekly rodeo in Cody, Wyo., and thought he could replicate the concept in Snowmass Village. Today McLain takes full responsibility for starting the rodeo; however, he says he never could have predicted how successful it would be 40 years later.
“The community is responsible for today’s Snowmass Rodeo, not me,” McLain said. “The volunteers have been instrumental in making this last. The rodeo has proved its worth, and I hope it goes another 40 years.”
Initially created as a small ranch rodeo, the Snowmass Rodeo has since evolved into a tradition attracting larger crowds every summer for the past 40 years. The July 3 rodeo will honor 23 individuals who have been pivotal in maintaining and improving the rodeo since the beginning.
A key figure in establishing the rodeo in Snowmass was Twirp Anderson. Originally aspiring to be a musician, Anderson moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1966 from a ranch near Lewiston, Idaho. Once he realized his music career could not pay the bills, Anderson began shodding horses (putting shoes on their hooves) for McLain — a job he would keep for 41 years.
“I was working for Doug McLain at Snowmass Stables in 1971,” Anderson said. “He came up with the concept of having a rodeo here. I dug the very first holes for the original arena.”
Anderson was the original rodeo announcer until he gave up his position in 2011. He still sings classic country songs at the rodeo barbecue and afterward at the campfire.
After living in the valley for nearly half a century, Anderson moved to Grand Junction in September to be closer to his only grandchild. Now 75 years old, Anderson commutes 21/2 hours every week 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.”
The rodeo has changed immensely from the first rodeo in 1973 to today. Arguably no man is more responsible for its development from a “ranch rodeo” to a resort activity than Bill Burwell.
Burwell and his older brother, Rod, owned and managed the Silvertree Hotel, which is now the Westin Snowmass. Burwell 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.
Christopher managed the rodeo from 1983 until the Burwell brothers 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,” Burwell said.
Burwell wanted to grow and improve the rodeo by bringing in better livestock and consequently better riders. He hosted free luncheon fundraisers to get local companies involved and send their customers to the rodeo. Perhaps Burwell’s best decision was to hire Harry Vold, an 11-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association 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.”
Stock contracting has been the Vold family business for 60 years throughout North America. There will be five separate rodeos across the U.S. and Canada put on by the Vold family this July Fourth weekend. Harry’s daughter, Darce, came on as the stock contractor for the Snowmass Rodeo 16 years ago. She owns a subsidiary to her father’s company with her siblings Doug Vold and Dona Larson — Triple V Rodeo Co. Darce Vold was just promoted to executive director of the Snowmass Rodeo last fall in addition to her role as 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.”
After some complications with the Snowmass Village Town Council, Burwell sold the rodeo to the town in 2001.
“The rodeo should stay running successfully until the vegetarians take over,” Burwell said.
“People love the simplicity and the honesty of the Western way of life,” Vold said. “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. 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.”
The Snowmass Rodeo grounds open at 5 p.m. for the barbecue and some 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. The 23 honorees plus two horses will be brought into the arena and honored at various times throughout the rodeo.
Scott Schlafer is working at The Aspen Times as an intern this summer.
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Summer in Snowmass may have felt busier than usual this year because of increased weekday visitation.