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When you combine roping and skiing along with some 55-gallon drums on skis along with a course designed to be jittery and tight, you get what Great Divide Ski Area calls the “Snow Rodeo.”

With dogs roaming the deck and enough skis leaning against racks that one fell over, Great Divide was hopping with activity Saturday afternoon. As contestants in the rodeo began their runs, skiers and snowboarders sidled up to the course fence and watched as snow wranglers ripped down the course, crashing as often as they stood triumphantly upright after rocketing off jumps.

Shane Moran was in charge of the rodeo this year. A three-time Montana circuit bronc-riding champion, Moran is familiar with rodeoing and skiing.

“There are three different events,” Moran explained. “It’s open to the public and you don’t have to be a cowboy to do it.”

In fact, the rodeo starts the day before in a roping competition. But since anyone can ski in the second day, everyone can have a go at being a cowboy on skis.

The first event is a cross-course race, where four people start at the log gate at the top of the course and race down as fast as they can. Second is the obstacle course, where two people bomb down the hill as fast as they can and must rope a plastic bull to have their time called. The third is a “barrel race” where two people have a rope tied to a 55-gallon drum with two skis bolted to it that a third person sits on. It looks like it hurts when the rodeoers crash on it.

JP Stanek was running the starts for the races during the day. Holding what looked like a grease gun, he cracked off the start, sending the swishing skiers down the hill. It turns out the grease gun was actually  a lift-evac gun, a device that uses a .22 caliber blank to fire a piece of twine over the lift cable so a bigger lift rescue rope can be hauled up after.

But the fourth race, the “Stampede,” is where it really gets fun. Becky Anseth said that the first year the Snow Rodeo happened, 40 people were arrayed halfway up Belmont Bowl. This year just about a dozen took the ride down to the bottom, holding drinks and crashing all over the place as they competed for a cash prize.

As the crowd prepared to go inside and start a ski boot dance (the prize was $100 -- for what exactly, was unclear), the sun had dropped over the hill and a chill had descended onto the deck. At least until next year, the Snow Rodeo had finished, but more roping and riding was just around the corner.

Except this time with horses.

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Reporter at the Helena Independent Record.

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