Snowdown 40 years in: Drunken revelry and staying DIY

by Patty Templeton

How did Durango turn into a day-drinking, hot-air-ballooning, hell-raising, pet-costuming, pants-off-dance-off, outhouse-stuffing winter wild town? The Durango Herald’s new biweekly speaker series, Durango Diaries, had a Snowdown edition on Monday, Jan. 29. Snowdown co-founder Linda Mannix, 34-year volunteer Mike Smedley, and current president of the Snowdown Board of Directors, Chip Lile, gave deets on history and the DIY nature of Snowdown.

Back in 1978, Linda Mannix, Terry Fiedler, and John Murrah sat down and, “Basically, it was a 12-pack of Budweiser, a Broncos game, and we talked about ideas … We dreamed (Snowdown) up between November 1978 and January 1979 and we got the event rolling,” said Mannix. That’s right, kiddos, all you need to create a bacchanalia is fine friends, satiating beverages, two months, and a little starter cash from someone like the Durango Herald. According to Mannix, it’s been, “A lot of cocktails along the way and a lot of fun.”

Snowdown is built around four pillar events: The Follies, the light parade, the chili cook-off, and the Fashion Dos and Don’ts luncheon. Over the years, other events have fallen by the wayside, like skiing Purg all day Sunday in your Follies costumes, according to Mannix. Also gone, the massive ping-pong tournament, dangerous ski jumping, and the Cream Pie Hit Squad.

“You could call in and order a ‘hit’ for a set amount of money … and people dressed in their finest James Bond attire playing the James Bond (soundtrack) on a boombox would appear,” said Smedley. “But they weren’t evil. They weren’t mean. (The hit squad) would call you and warn you and you could buy the contract for an extra 10 bucks, at which point (the hit squad) would call the original buyer and these things could get into the hundreds of dollars, going back and forth.” Or, you could buy a cream pie immunity.

It wasn’t long before outside forces wanted to control Snowdown.

“The people from Budweiser were so impressed, and said, ‘This is great, we need to get the naming rights for this. The Budweiser Snowdown.’ That had as much life as a glass of week-old, cheap champagne sitting on your counter,” said Smedley.

Snowdown isn’t for sale. It remains a purposefully DIY, volunteer-run nonprofit so that its board of directors retain complete creative control of the event. The power of Snowdown is in its grassroots mentality. Without having major sponsors to please, the board can let fly whatever events are safe, legal, and organized by the idea-maker.

“(Snowdown) touches everyone somehow, someway. I think that is the strength and beauty of Snowdown and that’s what’s going to get us through the next 40 years,” said Lile.

Patty Templeton


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