Rooftop Rodeo serving up family-style entertainment |

Rooftop Rodeo serving up family-style entertainment

Story and Photos Lincoln Rogers
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Utah rodeo cowboy Caleb Bennett turned in one of the few successful bareback rides of the night, scoring 78 points, during the first round of action in the 2013 Estes Park Rooftop Rodeo.

When you go to a restaurant that dishes out food “family style,” it means there will be heaping platters of vittles arriving at the table ready to be shared.

When you go to a rodeo that dishes out entertainment “family style,” it means there will be memorable times to be shared at the Rooftop Rodeo in Estes Park.

The 87-year-old mountain tradition makes a conscious effort to create memorable times for visitors and contestants arriving at their scenic outdoor venue.

From popular Behind the Chutes Tours to chuckwagon cooking samples, a hospitality tent, providing family-friendly specialty acts and encouraging post-rodeo autograph sessions, Rooftop Rodeo organizers makes sure everyone feels welcome and comfortable.

“In a small, Western town, family-friendly is kind of built into it,” said Howell Wright, president and CEO of Estes Park Western Heritage, Inc., the organization in charge of the Rooftop Rodeo. “We kind of watch that. If our clowns get a little bit risqué in their jokes, we pull them aside and say ‘no more of that stuff.’ We take a great deal of pride in that tradition and we want to protect that. We believe in the cowboy way.”

Wright also discussed their commitment to making the rodeo a highlight of families’ vacation plans, since Estes Park draws both national and international visitors.

“Our objective is to keep it family centered and up close and personal,” he continued. “Our Behind the Chutes tours, we just started those three years ago. Last year, we had so many people coming to the 5:30 p.m. tours that we realized had to add a 4:30 p.m. show. We are very tickled that last year we had seven countries represented at one of our shows. That is the most I can recall.”

“That’s really cool,” said Mark Purdy, the Estes Park Western Heritage Inc.’s chairman of the board, about being able to expose international visitors to the Western lifestyle through their rodeo. “It’s international, but all over the country, too. Obviously, we’ve got a lot of people in town, regardless. But as far as grabbing new people off the street and teaching them (about rodeo), it is a big deal. We have people that come back all the time.”

The efforts of about 60 year-round volunteers pay off in full grandstands throughout the six-day run, with families making the rodeo a part of their vacation plans to the Rocky Mountains.

Not only that, but the attention paid to making contestants feel at home is helping attract more top talent in the sport, including two-time PRCA world champion saddle bronc rider Taos Muncy in 2013.

“We had a blast (there),” described the New Mexico cowboy about spending time at the Rooftop Rodeo. “We had a great meal.”

“That makes it nice, having a home-cooked meal instead of always being on the road, eating Big Macs or stuff like that,” he added with a laugh. “They treated us real well.”

“They are very, very good,” agreed Colorado cowboy and family man, Josh Peek, about the award-winning rodeo and its beautiful locale. “Estes Park as a whole is just a serene area to go and compete because of the mountains and the setting and their hospitality tent is always awesome, too. And that’s what is really nice; it’s kind of like a little getaway, even during the rodeo.”

Asked about competing in a venue that tries to take care of contestants and their families, Peek was sincere in his compliments.

“When people look out for us like that, you can’t say enough,” he began with his answer. “When we can get a home-cooked meal in a hospitality tent with friendly people smiling at us, it just makes everything so much better.”

While the Western-style atmosphere and small town friendliness helps make the annual event attractive, the action inside the arena is the main draw.

Not only can visitors watch skilled contestants like Muncy and Peek compete in the arena, they also get to see some of the best livestock in the business, courtesy of Powder River Rodeo Company and D&H Cattle Company.

Powder River Rodeo is known for its top-flight bucking horses, including Khadafy Skoal, who was inducted into the PRCA Hall of Fame in 2012.

In confirmation of the Rooftop Rodeo’s commitment to strong relationships, Powder River Rodeo has been supplying their stock for the last 23 years.

“Working with Powder River Rodeo Company is like working with family,” described Wright of owners Hank and Lori Franzen, knowing he was continuing the family theme regarding their rodeo. “I don’t know what we would do without them. They think about us and talk about us not as just as a client. I truly believe they think about us as family and we think about them the same way.”

The feeling was indeed mutual.

“When we started here, it was old wood chutes and not a soul in the stands,” recalled Lori Franzen with a smile, before talking about the pleasure of working with the all the people associated with the Rooftop Rodeo. “There is not a better bunch of people that want what we all want. We all have the same goal of being the best we can be. It is, in my opinion, the best medium-sized rodeo.

“The place, the air, the mountains, the arena, the hospitality, the show itself,” she paused before finishing. “There is nothing like it.”

“We’re concerned that our fans see top-notch entertainment.” summed up Wright. “We are concerned that our cowboys have a safe place to come and have a chance to compete on really high quality stock. I think we have an attitude or an atmosphere here that people want to come to. The word is out that we are trying to do a really great job of producing a great rodeo.”

And that is a heaping order of family-style entertainment. ❖


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