The Ute Mountain Roundup Rodeo started Thursday with fanfare and fireworks, but not before the Frazier Carnival started lighting up the Montezuma County Fairgrounds.
Ticket lines stretched to the parking lot at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, a half-hour after the carnival opened for its second night of the week. Frazier Shows, a carnival company based in Scottsdale, Arizona, has been bringing its brand of queasy entertainment to the rodeo for about 20 years. President Steve Broetsky said it’s grown considerably during that time, so that now it’s just as much of an attraction as the rodeo itself.
The carnival boasts 26 rides, ranging from kid-friendly swings to seemingly gravity-defying roller coasters. But Broetsky said the high-altitude spinning rides, like the Freakout, tend to be the most popular.
“Rides that get people the sickest are the best rides,” he said. “Second best are the ones where they’re screaming.”
On a busy night like Thursday, he said, he expects to have at least a dozen rides temporarily “closed for cleanup” due to excessively thrilled guests.
Frazier travels all over the western United States during its 10-month touring season, providing entertainment at dozens of music festivals, county fairs and rodeos. Broetsky said the Ute Mountain rodeo is in its top 12 events in terms of crowds and returning customers. This year, he said, ticket sales on Wednesday night were 5 to 7 percent higher than last year’s opening, which he attributed to a stronger economy.
On Thursday, typically the busiest night of the carnival, the rides were more crowded than the rodeo bleachers. Many people who aren’t rodeo fans come to the fairgrounds during rodeo week just for the carnival, Broetsky said, even if they have to travel all the way from Durango or Farmington.
Mancos resident Hilda Moreno falls into that category. She said she’s not very interested in cowboys, but she’s been coming to the carnival for more than 20 years. On Thursday, she brought her two sons, ages 14 and 4, who both enjoy the rides in their own way.
“We look forward to it every year,” she said.
Broetsky said the Ute Mountain rodeo is one of his favorite events, partly because the large, flat fairgrounds provide “one of the nicest facilities ever.” And although he eventually hopes to get more business in large cities like Denver and Colorado Springs, he said he prefers working in rural areas like Cortez.
“This is like real Americana,” he said. “I grew up in New York City – I had never seen a carnival or a county fair, other than depicted in a movie or on TV, until I was 19.”
Traveling to places like Cortez, he said, allow him to experience the country life he didn’t have growing up.
Many of Broetsky’s employees have been traveling with Frazier for decades, he said. The company provides housing during the off-season for those who need it, and for some, like Freakout operator Ande Gibney, it’s become a way of life as well as a job. Gibney has been working for the carnival off and on since 2007. His wife and four children, whose ages range from 11 to 24, travel with him on the road, and his oldest children already have jobs there.
“I really do think it’s in their blood,” he said. “Everything draws us back–the people, the fun.”
The carnival opens at 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 1 p.m. on Sunday.