Location: Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas, USA
Dates: Starts in the first full week of December
Level of participation: 3 – attend the hoedown and gift show and hope for the rare chance to attend the rodeo
It could be argued that Las Vegas is a never-ending festival, a glorified fairground where the lights never go down. But there are moments when even Vegas outshines itself, and the 10-day National Finals Rodeo (NFR) is prime among them.
The big bronc of rodeo competitions, the NFR sees Vegas taken over by cowboys ready to ride and wrestle their way towards immortality. Known on the circuit as the ‘Superbowl of Rodeo’, NFR ropes in the season’s top 15 competitors (based on the ProRodeo world standings) in each of professional rodeo’s seven events: bull riding, saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, team roping and barrel racing. At stake are not just their bones and pride, but around US$5.5 million in prize money, which even by Vegas standards is real currency.
Since 1958, the NFR spent almost three decades being hosted by different US cities. In 1984 it was held at the Thomas and Mack Center for the first time and has been staged there every year since.
Running in conjunction with the rodeo is the Cowboy Christmas Gift Show in the Las Vegas Convention Center. No simple gift shop, the show contains around 400 stalls to help transform you into the cowboy or cowgirl of your rustling dreams. You’ll find boots, spurs, belt buckles as big as saucepans, and hats large enough to house small families. There’s also the Downtown Hoedown, a free honky-tonk party at the Fremont Street Experience, staged on the eve of NFR and featuring a host of big-name country musicians.
The toughest thing about NFR is not the cowboys but getting a ticket. Most tickets (around 100,000 of them) are allocated to riders and sponsors, leaving little more than 40,000 for the public. Such is the demand that tickets sell out more than a year in advance. It’s said that around one in 25 people who apply for tickets are successful.
Essentials: The rodeo is held nightly, beginning at 5.45pm or 6.45pm. If you missed out in the ticket ballot, the box office sells returned same-day tickets starting each morning around 10am. Cheaper ‘Mad Dash’ find-a-seat tickets let you scramble around to find no-show seats in the balcony area, with at least a guaranteed view of the action from the standing-room-only concourse.
Local attractions: The Strip is hedonic heaven and you can spend days bouncing from casino to casino. If central Vegas gets too much, head to Red Rock Canyon, an outdoor playground for local climbers and cyclists.
More info: www.nfr-rodeo.com
See other festivals in December here.