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Ski Hi: Colorado’s Oldest Pro Rodeo

By Anthony Guerrero

The oldest professional rodeo in Colorado is held every summer in Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley. Started in 1919, it is a deep Valley tradition having been held every year since, except for two years during World War II.

It is among the first organized rodeos in recorded history, second only to the Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming. The first event was held from August 11-13, 1919, and was called the Ski-Hi Stampede. The newspapers of record stated that more than 10,000 people gathered to watch the cowboys compete. In subsequent years, up to 20,000 ticket sales were recorded. It has only grown in scale since its early days. In a few short years it will celebrate its 100th anniversary.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, settlers and explorers such as Lt. Zebulon Pike and Oliver Bonner discovered the area now known as the San Luis Valley. Planting the roots for Ski Hi Stampede, Bonner was the president of the San Luis Valley Farmers and Stockgrowers Expedition, which was a fair held in Monte Vista for 32 years from 1886.

During the days of early settlement, the local young cowboys took pride in their stock and learned valuable skills as they herded wild animals back to the valley. They would seek bragging rights by showing off their prizes to each other and their techniques for roping the livestock.

[InContentAdTwo] Local ranchers and businessmen took note of the young cowboys’ energy and decided there should be a competition to help them let out their steam and show off their skill. The first stampede committee was born of this group and included state legislator and area rancher A.E. Headlee, L.B. Sylvester and W.W. Wright. This group spearheaded the idea to hold an event in Monte Vista where cowboys would compete and the spirit of the American West could live on. Since its inception, the Ski Hi Stampede Committee has also grown and has included influential community members such as mayors, city councilors, county commissioners, ranchers and business owners.

The stock used for the rodeo in the early years of the Stampede came from the wilderness along the Rio Grande. They were rounded up and brought into the city to increase the excitement. Today, the stock are raised by professional companies and are known to be some of the meanest in the business. The Stampede is an official Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo, not just another small town affair. It is also a charter member of the Rodeo Association of America which was founded in 1929. All-time greats of the rodeo sport from the world make yearly appearances in Monte Vista as a result.

The Ski Hi Stampede rodeo and associated events also have a visible mark on the community of Monte Vista as the large crowds and entertainment requires a large venue. Ski Hi Park, which is home to grandstands and a multi-purpose building, has housed the majority of the event, and updates to it throughout the decades have maintained the western flare. The grandstands were added in the early days, expanded in the 1930s and again improved recently in the 2000s.

The event is not limited to just a rodeo. It is a community celebration. Every year multiple days of parades, dances, a carnival, a chuckwagon dinner and a major concert are held.

The 97th Annual Ski Hi Stampede will be held July 26-30. For more information and tickets visit

Anthony Guerrero has been attending the Ski Hi Stampede since he was six months old.