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December 1, 2006
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Cowbells jangle at ski races, but why?

BEAVER CREEK - Wherever there's ski racing, there are cowbells. But why?Several ski race fans were asked why they jangle cowbells at events, leading to several more or less creative answers."It's easier than cheering," Skyler Yost said. Yost, a young ski racer from Pennsylvania who's not yet ready for the World Cup's prime time, said he'd actually rather hear cowbells than individual cheers."It's easier to hear, and it's not as distracting as someone yelling. It makes you realize the crowd's there," he said."You can make noise while you're wearing gloves," Pete Daley of Steamboat Springs said.Waiting for a bus up to Beaver Creek, Buck Miller had his own ideas about the uses of cowbells. Miller and a group of friends call themselves the "Hoosier Ski Team." Most have ties to Notre Dame University, and were at Beaver Creek for the races and a good time.

"It can be heard like a whistle," Miller said. "You can find your way to dinner if you've been drinking,"Ski instructor Tabitha Curtis took her own guess about the origin of the cowbell tradition."I think it might stem from the Swiss or Austrians," Curtis said. "Maybe they used them to scare away cows while they were skiing through fields."Curtis was pretty close. Adolph Imboden, a native of Switzerland, said farmers would race on skis during the winter, and their families would use their animals' bells to cheer them on.Elisabeth Halvorson of Cowbell.com confirmed Imboden's story. The families had bells to grab because the animals were penned up in the winter and weren't wearing bells. In the spring and summer, all the animals wore bells because they were out grazing the hillsides.Now, though, there are a lot more cowbells than there are Guernseys wandering Swiss meadows in the summer. In fact, cowbells are just about a must-have trinket from big winter events.Halvorson said cowbells were the top souvenir at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and are among the top sellers at ski racing events around the world.

Still, Halvorson had a pretty good load of leftover bells from the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy. She was selling those at a discount at the Birds of Prey races, as well as Birds of Prey bells.Before Friday's downhill, Halvorson was doing a pretty brisk business in bells, and had a friend in the grandstands, too.Tom McCalden of Meet the Wilderness was wandering through the crowd with an armload of bells. For every bell he sold, $5 went to Meet the Wilderness.So there's tradition in jangling a cowbell as a racer hurtles down an icy ski run. But while she was waiting in line at the Cowbell.com tent, Gracie Whelihan, a youngster from Steamboat, may have had the best reason to have a bell. "Because it's fun!" she said.Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or smiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO


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The VailDaily Updated Dec 1, 2006 04:20PM Published Dec 1, 2006 02:00AM Copyright 2006 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.