By Maria Wyllie
Explore Big Sky Associate Editor

LAS VEGAS – Big Sky may be known for having the biggest skiing in America, but this small mountain community is also gaining a name as one of the top bull riding destinations in the world.

For the second year in a row, the world’s top 35 bull riders voted the Big Sky PBR as the Touring Pro Division Event of the Year – an honor more than 200 events competed for.

The announcement was made at the Professional Bull Riders Built Ford Tough Word Finals, which took place Oct. 22-26 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center. More than 10,000 fans watched the 2014 World Champion, 26-year-old Brazilian Silvano Alves, fight his way to the final round on Sunday, claiming his third world title.

Before competing in Vegas, riders must earn enough points to qualify for the event – many did so by competing in the Touring Pro Division, which features a stop in Big Sky.

On night three of the BFTS Finals, Big Sky PBR producers Eric Ladd, CEO of Outlaw Partners (and publisher of EBS) and Andy Watson of Bozeman-based Freestone Productions were called center stage to claim their own title. Although the win may not have been as physically demanding as Alves,’ Ladd and Watson were thrilled.

Big Sky isn’t a Built Ford Tough Series Event, but according to announcer Brandon Bates at the Thomas & Mack Center it might as well be, since much of the industry’s top talents make the trip to Montana.

Upon accepting the award, Watson attributed the event’s success to its beautiful location, Chad Berger’s Bucking Bulls, some of the best riders on the circuit and a top-notch team, including Ladd and co-producer Jim Murphy of Continental Construction who wasn’t present during the Vegas finals.

The Big Sky PBR is produced by Outlaw Partners, Freestone Productions and Continental Construction. This trio of businesses handles everything from setting up the arena and running the event, to doing marketing, PR and organizing ticket sales.

Sponsoring businesses also play a big part. The Yellowstone Club, Spanish Peaks Mountain Club, Big Sky Resort, and Moonlight Basin all joined forces this year as the event’s presenting sponsors.

Hans Williamson, Vice President of the Yellowstone Club, which has sponsored the Big Sky PBR since its inception in 2011, said it’s encouraging to see the success and participation grow each year.

“The PBR has grown to be the premier event of the summer in Big Sky, and Yellowstone Club is proud to support unique events that are beneficial for the community,” Williamson said. “Everyone that attends has a great time and those experiences are positive for locals and visitors.”

Competitors aren’t the only ones who want to keep coming back to Big Sky. The event has sold out every year since its debut with visitors traveling from around the country – and world – to get a feel for the Western spirit.
“You won’t find a better setting anywhere in the world than right here in Big Sky,” said PBR Chairman and CEO Jim Haworth to a fully packed arena this past summer.

The 2015 event is slotted for July 30-31, and will take a step up, leaving the Touring Pro Division, and joining the BluDef Velocity Tour, which offers established and emerging bull riding talent more opportunities to qualify for the BFTS. Live streaming will allow fans to enjoy the action from anywhere in the world.

In the past, the event has been held on a Wednesday and Thursday. With the second day of the 2015 Big Sky PBR falling on a Friday, next year’s PBR will attract even more fans.

“Having our event shift to Thursday and Friday is big for our event as it will allow people to turn this into a weekend getaway in Big Sky,” Ladd said. “The only problem is we’re going to have to find more seats as the otherwise sold out event is sure to have huge demand for these tickets.”

As development in Town Center expands, the PBR will have to find a new location in Big Sky. The sagebrush field behind Lone Peak Cinema is still available next year, but after 2015 the event will need a new home.

“We still want to work with PBR and help anyway we can because it’s such a great event for Big Sky,” said Bill Simkins, owner of Simkins-Hallin Lumber out of Bozeman and developer of Big Sky Town Center. Simkins said he suspects the community will have its own rodeo arena in the future, once the organizers are able to obtain a permit.

Ladd says that building a local rodeo arena will benefit the entire community.

“Long term, I want to see a permanent facility built that can host Friday night rodeos throughout the summer, similar to Cody and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, culminating with the PBR event,” he said, adding the search for land to construct the facility is already underway.

Although the arena may move, Big Sky’s event of the year is here to stay, according to bull riders. Big Sky residents echoed that sentiment in this paper’s annual Best of Big Sky survey held each December, voting it the 2013 event of the year.

“Winning this award is an amazing testament to the team, sponsors and fans who make this event world class,” Ladd said. “Wait until next year. We have some big surprises in store.”