Conversation with … Janet Engel of the High Stampede Rodeo

Leia Larsen
Janet Engel, right, and Dale Sonnek relax prior to the start of the final High Country Stampede rodeo of the summer last Saturday, Aug. 17, in Fraser. Engel and Sonnek are both retiring from their roles with the rodeo and were recognized during Saturday evening's final rodeo.
Byron Hetzler/ | Sky-Hi News

The High Stampede Rodeo just wrapped up its 30th year, and Janet Engel has been there through it all. She remembers the rodeo’s first year, when they used car headlights because they didn’t have funds to purchase arena lights. She was a contestant and member of the Winter Park Horseman’s Association then, but about three years later, she joined the rodeo board as treasurer. She’s held many positions since, helping the rodeo endure through the decades. Four years ago, she wrote a grant for the arena’s current state-of-the art stadium lights, which she says now light up the arena like daylight.

Engel’s devotion might come, in part, from her deep roots in the Fraser Valley. Her parents owned the original ski shop and school at Winter Park Resort. Her mom, too, has been involved with the rodeo from the start, and still helps with the concessions stand. Although she acknowledges the rodeo founders like Bob Temple and John Work, as well as valuable help from board members like Dale Sonnek and Curt Thurston, Engel has been the person who held the rodeo together. Now retiring from her position at the High Stampede Rodeo, Engle reflected on the past 30 years.

How did you get involved with the rodeo?

In 1983, the Chamber of Commerce was looking for something for out-of-town visitors and locals to do in the summer evenings. There wasn’t a lot of things going on, especially at that time. I was a member of the Winter Park Horseman’s Association, and the Chamber asked us if we’d like to be involved with a rodeo.

What positions have you held?

The only job I haven’t done at that rodeo is pulling the bucking shoots. I have done every other job, from picking up the trash, to opening the gates, to working the pop stands. I’ve been president, secretary and treasurer, and there were a couple of years I was president, secretary and treasurer at the same time. But for the last seven or eight years, I’ve been the treasurer and business manager. I take all the entries for the contestants, I write all the grants for the rodeo, I order all the pop and beer. It would be hard to describe all the things I’ve done.

Why did you decide to retire?

I work on this rodeo 365 days a year. For 30 years, I’ve lived and breathed this rodeo. Finally, this year, I realized I have no time. I have two really nice, young horses that I want to rodeo on. When I’m done, I want to load them up on the trailer and go to another rodeo. In the back of my mind, I always thought if I could make it to the 30th anniversary that would be enough. That’s almost half my life.

What makes the High Stampede Rodeo unique?

Our mission statement is to preserve and to honor the Western traditions of our valley, and to promote horsemanship and sportsmanship. One of our main emphases has been our junior rodeo, which is kids 18 and under. Our junior rodeo has grown to be one of the largest in the state. I can’t tell you why. I say it’s because we run such a good rodeo. We have excellent ground. That’s one of the things I brought to our rodeo, to have good, safe ground for all the contestants. Just the same as a good announcer, or a good clown, those are all things that can make or break your rodeo.

What are some of your favorite events in the rodeo?

Of course barrel racing and pole bending because I compete in those. Also, there’s nothing like a good saddle bronc ride. They call it the classic event of rodeo. If it’s a good ride, they’re just beautiful.

How have you seen the rodeo change over the last 30 years?

It has always been a good rodeo, but it has become more professional. Over the years, we’ve gone from using headlights and one tiny set of bleachers we found at a school in eastern Colorado to having covered seats, a pavilion, a concessions stand. The original crow’s nest was just a little platform, and now it’s a building all of its own. The competitive level of the contestants has dramatically grown. A lot of our contestants have gone on to the professional ranks and have done extremely well. A lot of our contestants have gone on with rodeo scholarships.

How have you seen the Fraser Valley community change over the last 30 years?

It has grown. It certainly hasn’t grown as much as, say, Summit County. When Intrawest came in to Winter Park, I was invited to be on the envisioning committee. One of the things the locals on the committee said was if, in 55 years, Winter Park hasn’t turned into a Vail or an Aspen, there’s a really good reason for it. It’s a family area. Don’t try to change it into something that it’s not. Embrace what it is, and make that better. This valley is a wonderful place to be, a wonderful place to bring up a family, and a wonderful place to live. I wish that would be embraced more.

Do you think we’re losing that?

Yeah, to a certain degree. I think because so many of the people moving in here, they’re part-time owners but they want to have all the amenities of Vail or Aspen. But that’s just not Winter Park. Yeah, I’d like to have different things available, but you have the closeness of Denver, and the remoteness of here. It’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. It’s just a good place.

What do you feel has been your most important rodeo contribution?

I did the very best I could do. I have given 110 percent and made that rodeo the very best it could be. For me, it’s gratifying but it’s also tough to walk away. But it’s time. I’m not 20 anymore. I truly feel I’ve made it the best that I could. I feel I’ve set the bar high for both contestants and the horseman’s association.

Why are community rodeos important?

We have some sponsors who have been there for 30 years. It’s good advertising for these businesses. We have tons of locals who come every Saturday night. It’s good, wholesome, affordable family entertainment. It fills a real niche for evening entertainment. Still, 30 years later, there’s not a lot that goes on in the evening. You’ve got the movie theater and bowling. You can go out to eat. But really, there’s not that much. The original intent of that rodeo still holds true today – providing a venue for nighttime entertainment. How great is that? It hasn’t been outgrown, it hasn’t lived past its shelf life. It still serves its purpose.

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