You can feel the Old West vibes of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, even before you get there.
Driving into the mountain town, a three-hour drive northwest of Denver, you’ll see dozens of yellow and black signs advertising F.M. Light & Sons, where you can by a pair of boots, a bandana or some overalls. It’s worth a stop, even if just to walk across the creaky wooden floorboards.
The iconic downtown store opened in 1905, which makes it almost as old as the rodeo tradition in Steamboat Springs, which dates to at least 1898. In those early days, lacking a real arena, spectators positioned their horses in a circle, heads inward, to form an enclosure for the informal competition among ranch hands. Later, cars did the job.
Today, the action takes place at the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena, in roughly the same area where those early shows were held. This year, spectators can take in the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series every Friday and Saturday through August. (Last year’s series was cancelled due to the pandemic.)
Behind the scenes
I got to go behind the scenes there a few years ago, watching solemn-faced cowboys check and recheck their gear before climbing aboard wild-eyed, snorting animals. One bull, named Voodoo Daddy, clanged its horns against a metal chute while two contestants kneeled in prayer.
“Eight seconds feels like five minutes,” then 23-year-old Dillon Snare told me.
I sipped a beer and munched a hotdog in the stands as I took in the ram scramble, during which boys and girls scamper after wooly, four-legged critters as they try to grab a ribbon clipped to the animals’ coats. I even got a tour of the announcer’s booth, where I watched the calf roping and steer wrestling events unfold below.
This year’s rodeo features live music and barbecue each night, plus a full bar. Tickets are $25 for covered seating; $20 for uncovered seats; and $10 for children ages 7 to 15 (6 and under are free). Gates open at 5:30 p.m., but the main rodeo starts at 7:30 p.m. and lasts about two hours. The Brent Romick Arena is located at 401 Howelsen Parkway. For tickets and more information, visit www.steamboatprorodeo.com.
Beyond the rodeo
The performance is a highlight of a summertime trip to Steamboat Springs, but it’s not the only rodeo in town.
Each July, the town also hosts Hot Air Balloon Rodeo, drawing more than 20 balloons and their balloon-wrangling pilots from all over the United States. This year’s event is scheduled for July 10 and 11. Spectators won’t be allowed at the launch site, but the public can get an up-close look from the Ski Town Ballfields. For more information go to www.steamboatchamber.com/events/annual-events/hot-air-balloon-rodeo/.
You can get another dose of the ranch life at the Routt County Fair, which gears up in nearby Hayden Aug. 19-22, featuring a bonfire, a demolition derby, livestock judging and more. For more information on that, go to www.routtcountyfair.org.
It’s all a reflection of Steamboat’s rich history, which is summarized at the Tread of Pioneers Museum, 800 Oak Street. For more information, go to www.treadofpioneers.org.
Need more ideas? Head to the Steamboat Springs Colorado Chamber at www.steamboatchamber.com.