A Steamboat Springs Moment Frozen in Time
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Winter 2005: A Moment Frozen in Time
by Jo SemotanSteamboat Springs' Barn Poster
To this day, the picture still holds the romance of the Old West and the new. Under that blue sky, the beautiful mountain in the background with all the glorious ski runs, the deep snow with horses pushing through it and the modern cowboy and cowgirl with skis in hand. And of course, the classic lines of the old barn. Who could have known it would create such a mystical sensation?
During the 1971-72 ski season, Steamboat Ski Area marketing director Mix Beauvais called to ask if I would set up a photo shoot for the next ski season's marketing poster. He asked me to contact Jerry More to see if we could use his barn the week after Winter Carnival. He also needed two horses, a cowboy and a cowgirl. A sponsor would provide skis.
I got Jerry's permission, then called Clarence Wheeler and asked if the ski company could use a couple of his horses for a picture.
"After Carnival? Yeah, I have a couple sharp shod horses I'm racing in the ski events," he said. All I could think was, "Uh-oh, real horse people would be needed for hot horses!"
I asked Rusty Chandler if he would ride. I assured him the ski company would make it worth his time. He would be carrying a pair of skis and he would get the rest of the day off. When I called Mix to report that everything was set, but I hadn't found an available cowgirl, he said, "Well, how about you?"
At 6 a.m. on the day of the shoot, the horses were saddled and ready to go. Rusty and I mounted up, clothed in Western-style parkas from local style man Jess Bell. The horses were restless. The sun would soon peak over Storm Mountain. The photographer, Gerry Brimacomb, was late. His boss, Steve Griak of the ski area's advertising company Wilson-Griak, was hot under the collar. It was well below zero, clear and beautiful. Overnight, 18 inches of snow had fallen.
Steve asked Rusty to find a phone and call the photographer. Rusty rode off to Safeway. My horse, not to be left behind, wheeled and off we galloped (not slowly, I recall).
When we returned, we were directed to ride in front of the barn through the snow toward the photographer and not to stop. It would be one continuous run. Skis were handed up, the signal was given and the horses moved through the Champagne Powder® ears up, snow pushing against their chests and legs lifting high. Our feet dragged through the snow, making furrows by the horses' bellies. We did one more ride from a different angle, but the previous path showed. A movie camera captured the scene for a promotional film.
Everyone was excited because the photographer was ecstatic with the light. Rusty and I were not too impressed, we were cold. Jerry helped us unsaddle the horses, and helped Clarence load his horses into the trailer. Then we went to find a warm place to pull off our boots and have a cup of hot coffee and breakfast.
Rusty and I were not thinking it was going to be anything special even when the poster was completed and we were given original photographs. We were very aware of the teasing that went something like, "Just what exactly were you two doing in that barn?"
Rusty Chandler is the gent in the poster. He was born in 1941 in Laconia, New Hampshire. A competitive ski jumper, he entered the University of Colorado on scholarship. He moved to Steamboat after college to coach with the Winter Sports Club.
Rusty worked for Skeeter Werner (former Olympian and daughter of Steamboat's renowned Werner family) at Werner's Storm Hut and at the new Mount Werner Ski Area. She introduced him to alpine skiing, and he became a beautiful and somewhat aggressive skier, skiing hard and fast. He rose through the ranks of the ski school to become a loved and respected supervisor.
Because Rusty had a way with horses, Pat Mantle of Sombrero Stables hired him as a wrangler for a summer riding program at Mount Werner Ski Area, leading tourists on trail rides. During this time, the ski area did a promotional film with Rusty leading a horse through a barn door into big flakes of snow. The idea for the barn poster may have come from this scene.
Rusty also worked for local construction company TIC. He eventually returned to New Hampshire and his father's farm, working as the King Ridge Ski School director. He is now retired.
Rusty drifted back to the Yampa Valley last summer, "just to visit old friends and look around." He spent time on Buffalo Pass checking out old camp sights, doing a little target practice (didn't get an elk) and looking down the valleys on both sides of the Continental Divide.
I am the lady in the poster.
I was born in Steamboat Springs in Dr. Willet's hospital on Seventh Street, which later became the band room, where I practiced bass violin. It became the Seventh Street Playhouse for several years and was recently torn down.
As a member of the Winter Sports Club, I raced downhill, slalom and giant slalom. Before that, I could only turn right because at the bottom of the ski jump at Moon Hill School a right turn was necessary to avoid the road. Gordy Wren taught me to turn left and then entered me in a downhill race.
I graduated from Steamboat Springs High School in 1957, the same year I was Carnival Queen and Craig Ride-n-Tie queen. I was a ranch girl and spent most of my time in the saddle and hay fields, working for my parents when I wasn't in school. My mother said I rode through college on the offspring of my 4H projects.
I graduated from the University of Colorado in 1962, taught dance, gymnastics, volleyball, soccer and tennis at the University of Denver and returned to Steamboat in 1967. I taught skiing for Steamboat when Skeeter was director. Rusty was my first trainer.
As a country kid, I assisted the ski area by arranging for local ranchers, cowboys, ranch buildings, horses and stagecoaches to be in advertising programs. I went to work full-time for the marketing department, but left in 1976 to complete my master's degree in sport science at the University of Denver. I also married and had three daughters.
Returning home in the early '90s, I went back to teaching skiing. The glee of my students were the best tips I received. One time a woman skied away from class yelling, "You're worth every damn dollar I've spent on you."
I retired from teaching last year and now I'm a fair-weather skier who doesn't use poles. I am having a phenomenally good time, energizing old muscle memory from ski ballet, making a fool of myself and not caring a bit.
The old poster still hangs on many walls all over the world. In 1999, Ski magazine recognized the poster as one of the greatest ski photos of the century. It captured a moment, frozen in time.
Jo Semotan is a second-generation Routt County rancher. She enjoys sharing the stories she heard from her mother and now tells to her own grandchildren.