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All’s fair at the fair

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We’re in Eagle County and regardless of whatever else you can say about the place, it’s in the West.And although Vail has all the authentic western charm of a prairie dog hole, in the western end of Eagle County this week you have the chance to cowboy up. It’s the 67th annual Eagle County Fair and Rodeo.Lots of people who come here think Eagle County is in the wilderness because the cab drivers speak English. They want to do western things, like rope and ride and sing “Yuppie Tie Yo Tie Yay!”

They want to witness the cow-infested experience of a rodeo, the first sporting competition in which the competitors use skills they use on their regular jobs, such as rounding up cattle and herding over mountains and through raging rivers. When they’re done they want to sit around the old home corral and sing cowboy songs like “I Love My Longhorn and She Loves Me.”While Vail proper has about as much authentic western charm as a prairie dog hole, the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo is one of those western-type places around here where people engage in actual western-type rituals, such as ropin’ and ridin’ and tellin’ tall tales about why barbed wire is named after a woman named Barb.So go ahead and dress like the Marlboro Man, even though the Marlboro Man probably hasn’t bathed in an extra special long time, and the Marlboro Man sits on the back of his horse and blows smoke out at 5,000 cows while exhorting me and you to “Come to Where the Flavor Is,” which leads us to the burning question about what kind of flavor you can expect with 5,000 cows,

Cattle, explain real cowboys, have three basic brain functions. They eat, they digest, and if they can’t eat it they run away from it.If you pay attention at the fair, you’ll learn all kinds of western lore, like what happens to a cellular phone in a stampede. You might also learn a couple rope tricks you can use to help keep order during business meetings.After they headin’ ’em up and movin’ ’em out, grab a little barbecue, which calls for a little more commitment than the average cow wants to make.But like King Tut they’ll sacrifice everything for tourism.Also, it shows those nonconformist dogies who’s really the boss.

It’s a brand new year with a brand new venue.The 67th annual Eagle County Fair and Rodeo runs Wednesday through Saturday. It has a new house, and it’s a palace.The Eagle River Center is bigger than a big box and a much cooler color. It’s 45,000 square feet – 150-feet by 300-feet, the size of a football field – and it’s green.This year it will house the open exhibits, the junior livestock sales and the livestock exhibits. You’ll get a chance to see them all because the entire fair layyout has been flip-flopped. Fair-goers will park and enter the fairgrounds from the west side through the new building, then mosey in an easterly direction toward the carnival and to the rodeo arena.The annual 4H displays in the Exhibition Hall and Livestock Barn are the culmination of a year of work by both youngsters and adults. At the heart of the 4H part of the Fair is the annual livestock sale.A carnival was added to the Fair and Rodeo a few years back, and it’s no coincidence that the carnival started coming to town about the same time that the Fair began setting annual attendance records.

The event’s centerpiece is the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, a sanctioned rodeo that draws the top cowboys from all over the PRCA’s Mountain States Region. Since the event is annually held near the time of Cheyenne’s Frontier Days, it often draws some of the best riders and toughest stock in the country, making Eagle County one of their favorite stops on the rodeo circuit.As always, the fair opened Saturday with the Bullriders Classic, an event that pits man against beast in which humans are not at the top of the food chain.”We had 30 bullriders signed up, which is a bunch of carnage,” said Dick Kesler, Eagle County Fair and Rodeo Coordinator.The carnival opens at noon Wednesday. Later that night is the first rodeo performance. The four performances run through Saturday night.On Friday, the fight against breast cancer puts cowboys firmly in touch with their masculinity when the rodeo celebrates “Tough Enough to Wear Pink.” The object is to raise money and awareness for the fight against breast cancer.

“Eagle County has selected the Shaw Cancer Center as the recipient,” Kesler said. “We’ll have all kinds of fund-raisers and the money goes directly to them.”The rodeo crew will wear pink, as will members of the fair board.”Even the cowboys will wear pink, but we had to buy their shirts form them,” Kesler said. “We didn’t think that was asking too much.”Vail, Colorado


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