94th Rooftop Rodeo is Estes Park’s first big event of 2021
Record number of contestants sign up for “Rodeo with Altitude”
for The Fence Post
The gorgeous mountain town of Estes Park, Colo., is known for world famous scenery and wildlife within the nearby Rocky Mountain National Park. As a tourist destination, COVID restrictions that canceled events and limited RMNP visitors hit the economy hard. Among those events was the historic and award winning Rooftop Rodeo, which runs for six days every July and is a popular tourist stop for RMNP visitors from all over the world who wish to absorb the American western experience. After canceling 2020’s rodeo, the committee knew they didn’t want to miss two years in a row, but uncertainties abounded in early 2021 when it was time to plan in earnest.
“We actually started planning earlier than we ever have and absolutely had no idea if we were going to put on a rodeo,” described Mark Purdy, Rooftop Rodeo’s chairman of the board and the CEO of Estes Park Western Heritage, Inc. “With all the color coding (Colorado) had, at that time if we could put on a rodeo it would be 25% capacity. Well, that would have been a financial bloodbath.”
While the committee continued to plan and crunch numbers, the town of Estes Park (which owns the rodeo) drew a line in the sand for holding the rodeo at 50% capacity, but even at that number, Purdy conceded the economics were “ugly.” Still, they forged ahead in partnership with Estes Park.
“We are the first big show for the town this year,” said Purdy about how health restrictions had caused all the other typical events in the spring and early summer to cancel. “So they went all in.”
Making that bet proved to be a winning move for both the town and the committee, as state restrictions were lifted in increments throughout May and June to allow the Rooftop Rodeo to formally schedule its 94th event from July 5th through the 10th. Organizers were not the only ones excited to put the high altitude rodeo on the calendar, as 2021 was a record setting year for contestant entries.
“We were very pleased with that,” said Purdy. “We are a six night rodeo. Going back to 2014, we set a high in contestants of about 450. The first year Cervi was here (as a stock contractor in 2015), we went over 600. Then we went to 700. We are at 830 this year.”
The growth at the Estes Park venue has seen an upward trajectory since adding Cervi Championship Rodeo in 2015. Along with the new stock contractor came fresh ideas to enhance spectator entertainment. Two flights of bull riding increased the spectator energy of the rodeo, with the popular event opening and closing each nightly performance. Fans were also in mind when the committee made a decision to reshuffle the events.
“The other thing we did is we re-ordered our events,” explained Purdy. “So every other event is a bucking event of some sort and that has been really well received. You get the excitement level up real loud.”
The physical layout of the arena was also changed with the crowd in mind. About five years ago, the bucking chutes were moved from one end of the arena to a 50-yardline type location straight across from the covered grandstands that hold about 2,200 people. That move ensured a prime view of the bucking action from every seat and the response in ticket sales was immediate.
“We totally reconfigured our arena,” said Purdy about moving the chutes plus other improvements. “Since then, we have sold every box seat every night for the last five years. This year, we sold out of the boxes three weeks ago.”
ON FIRM FOOTING
On top of the world famous location near Rocky Mountain National Park, the recent change in stock contractors, and an updated arena configuration, the 2021 Rooftop Rodeo also kept their product on firm footing by retaining and hiring some of the best contract personnel in the business.
“We look around our arena and we have nine-time PRCA Clown of the Year Justin Rumford,” began Purdy. “Our announcer, Andy Seiler, did the NFR last year. We have two-time PRCA Music Director of the year Josh ‘Hambone’ Hilton, and we just hired 10-time Rodeo Secretary of the Year Sunni Deb Backstrom (who is also a 2021 PRCA Hall of Fame inductee). We are blessed with some really great people here.”
With full stands from Monday to Thursday and sold out performances for both Friday and Saturday nights, the 2021 Rooftop Rodeo showed the public appreciated the event and the rodeo itself came through for Estes Park in a big way.
“We’re loving it,” responded Purdy about seeing the enthusiastic response in 2021 to the historic mountain rodeo. “We love the crowd; we love the contestant list we have had. Our committee has worked their hinds off for the last seven months. I am really proud of this whole situation we are in right now. It was really so much fun.”
2021 Rooftop Rodeo Title Winners (total payoff – $166,495):
Bareback: Tyler Johnson, $5,534
Steer Wrestling: Brandon Harrison, $4,333
Team Roping: Tie — Tate Kirchenschlager/Cole Davison and Kaleb Driggers/Junior Nogueira
Sadde Bronc: Sterling Crawley, $5,584
Tie Down Roping:Riley Pruitt, $4,054
Barrel Racing: Shelley Morgan, $4,221
Bull Riding: Stetson Dell Wright, $4,276
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