Montana Gov. Gianforte and North Dakota Gov. Burgum appear on Friday; cowboy wins $20K bounty, an American ‘dream coming true’
By Jack Reaney ASSOCIATE EDITOR
Editor’s note: Outlaw Partners is the publisher of Explore Big Sky and is the producer of Big Sky PBR.
On the second night of three at the Big Sky PBR, everyone expected bucking bulls. But fewer expected a rare congregation of neighboring governors.
On the dirt, there were plenty of qualifying rides to keep the crowd entertained. In front of a calm, glowing sky after 9 p.m., Brazilian cowboy Vitor Losnake rode Viper—Friday’s “bounty bull” with a chance to win $20,000—and succeeded in a dramatic finale. Losnake is one of only four riders that qualified on both Thursday and Friday, and he’s confident heading into day three.
“It’s a dream coming true, since I was a kid,” Losnake told EBS after setting down the giant check he’d earned at his first Big Sky PBR. “[Since] my dad would put me on calves, I always dreamed of coming to America to ride bulls.”
And few would dispute the importance of mutton bustin’. This July in Big Sky, the same 6-year-old won three times in seven days—first at the Big Sky Community Rodeo, and sweeping both Thursday and Friday nights of the Big Sky PBR.
Quinn Welker put her head down, latched onto the sheep and even collided with the barrel in the center of the dirt, but she nearly rode across the entire arena.
“You have to hold onto the stomach and squeeze the wool,” she explained to EBS after winning. “You always have to close your eyes.”
Welker said the three-peat feels “Good. Great.” Holding her giant trophy, she made an effort to high five every other young competitor on the dirt.
“They did a great job,” she said.
Another crowd pleaser, of course, was the Murdoch’s dance competition. After Flint Rasmussen, the revered PBR rodeo clown, selected a middle-aged Bozeman mechanic, the man vaulted himself almost ten feet down from the bleachers into the dirt and made good use of his bottom half during his routine. A young woman from Bozeman “flossed” and earned sharp criticism from Rasmussen. But they were no match for 37-year-old Alex, who shocked the crowd with his full split.
“I figured if my wife can have three kids, I can do a split in a dance competition,” he told EBS moments after victory. He learned to dance from his parents, and to do a split from his wife, Alice.
It was another night of suspense, inspiration and joy, but that’s to be expected from the Big Sky PBR. Most unique, perhaps, were the events leading up to the event.
‘This is the best of America’
Montana Governor Greg Gianforte and North Dakota Governor—now presidential candidate—Doug Burgum showed their respect for Western tradition while stopping in Big Sky.
Around 5:15 p.m., Gov. Burgum took a small stage inside the arena concessions tent. He took the chance to shake hands with two friends who make the Big Sky PBR possible: one was Chad Berger, nine-time bull stock contractor of the year and a fellow North Dakotan. The other was Eric Ladd, Outlaw Partners’ chairman and CEO, from whom Burgum bought tickets to the first-ever Big Sky PBR in 2011.
“If anybody can get people together, it’s Doug Burgum,” Berger said.
Gov. Burgum is a businessman-turned-politician who grew up on a farm in the small town of Arthur, N.D. He most notably invested in, and led, Fargo-based Great Plains Software until its sale to Microsoft for $1.1 billion in 2001, and his later career was highlighted by efforts to conserve the history and landscape of North Dakota with the creation of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library.
“I know when you get kids from a small town and you give us a level playing field, we can take on anybody in the world,” Burgum said, summarizing the ethos behind his campaign. Running on the Republican ticket, he’s focusing on the economy, domestic energy policy and national security.
During opening ceremonies on the dirt about 75 minutes later, Montana Gov. Gianforte took the chance to welcome visitors to Montana in his brief speech.
“Well, it’s perfect weather,” Gianforte said. “Hello Big Sky, who’s ready to rodeo? Aren’t we blessed to be here tonight.”
Gov. Burgum spoke next.
“I just want to ask everybody to just take a look around,” he said. “Look at how beautiful this place is. Look at the people next to you. This is the best of America, where neighbors help neighbors.”
Minutes later, Burgum re-entered the arena on horseback, carrying the American flag and circling the cowboys before musician Jamie McLean played the national anthem on electric guitar.
EBS caught up with Gov. Burgum to learn what brought him to the Big Sky PBR.
Gov. Burgum talks Big Sky
Burgum’s grandparents moved to Montana in the 1930s, he explained. His grandfather was the state’s first public health official. Growing up with cousins in Billings, Burgum grew to love skiing in Montana—he says he’s never gone a winter without it. While studying at North Dakota State University, he’d drive overnight with friends from Fargo, N.D., to Bozeman for some cold smoke at Bridger Bowl.
“Everybody that goes to Montana State knows that Bridger Bowl is their ski resort,” he said. “Turns out it was our ski resort too, at North Dakota State, only we had an 11-hour drive to get there.”
Burgum has owned a home in Big Sky since 2005, and still remembers visiting with college friends fifty years ago during Big Sky Resort’s opening year.
“I’m excited they’re putting in a new tram to the top of Lone Mountain… It’s gonna be pretty sweet,” Burgum said.
Burgum’s been on the campaign trail for just six weeks: he arrived to Montana from Oklahoma and will head to California next. He said the groundswell of support has been amazing from people who want to see a small-town kid get his shot on the debate stage.
When it comes to rodeos, he still favors the Bismarck PBR in his home state, but said Big Sky’s is hard to beat. Bismarck and Big Sky compete for the PBR event of the year, he noted.
“Events like this don’t happen unless a community pulls together,” he said. “All the volunteers, all the supporters, all the sponsors, all the fans. It takes a whole community and you can really feel it. [Big Sky has] a great thing going here.”
Friday night wrapped up with the Jamie McLean Band, a past PBR performer.
“We love Big Sky, we love PBR, it’s our favorite event of the year,” McLean told EBS before playing to a crowd still energized by that Bounty Bull ride.