Cowboy Up, Aspen!

Photo Credit:  Aspen Historical Society, Russell Collection
Aspen in 2023 sees far more people saddling bikes than horses, but Spring always offers a few reminders of days when the west was a bit wilder. The Roaring Fork Valley is still home to several working cattle ranches. And while many of us are putting away our winter gear and looking forward to long days on the bike, actual cowboys are making hay while the sun shines, literally and figuratively. Throughout the valley, calving season is underway, and cowboys and cowgirls are saddled up, pushing their herds off the comfort of ranches out into forest service lands to graze in pastures high in the mountains. These operations are commonly multi-generational and steeped in family heritage and highlight an overlooked side of Aspen’s heritage.
Photo Credit:  Aspen Historical Society, Vagneur Collection

Most of us know Aspen as a ski town, and it certainly is. But, the community actually hosted its first rodeo long before the first lift started spinning. The Aspen Saddle and Bridle Club was founded in the 1950s and throughout the 19th century Aspen hosted several very successful annual rodeos including the Silver Stampede and Potato Days. However, none was more popular than the W/J Stampede Rodeos at Wink Jafee’s W/J Ranch on McLain Flats. Every summer for over 20 years, 250 cowboys from all over the Rocky Mountain West would compete for cash and belt buckles in front of more than 2,000 spectators!

 Photo Credit:  Aspen Historical Society; Whyte Collection

While it’s far less common to see cowboys riding horseback into downtown Aspen today, the rodeo scene is alive and well. While most folks visiting Aspen only touch cowboy culture with the purchase of an expensive hat, there are a few ways to more deeply embrace the valley’s rich western heritage. Each week in June, July and August there are two amazing rodeos to attend including the Snowmass Rodeo, stampeding into it’s fiftieth year, on Wednesday nights and the Carbondale Wild West Rodeo every Thursday. Both offer inclusive fun for kids including “mutton busting” and a mix of old-fashioned wild-west fun for the whole family. So this summer, trade out your 4-buckle boots for a pair of leather pull-ons and head on out for a plate full of bbq and a touch Aspen’s days gone by.