Satori Slipchuk sits on a set of steps just off the main rodeo stage at the Calgary Stampede. Slowly, with her brass mellophone tucked under her arms, she runs an ice cube back and forth across her lips. It’s not hot outside, but the 17-year-old is seeking relief from playing her instrument non-stop. Out of the eyes of the public, Slipchuck starts to prepare for another show. It’s five minutes to showtime.
Behind-the-scene images play out every hour and every day across the Calgary Stampede, billed as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” and now in its 107th year. If there was ever a place where the famous stage phrase was appropriate, this would be the place.
The Stampede has hundreds of shows and performances by a variety of performers for the more than one million people who walk through the gates every year in Calgary.
Flint Rasmussen is perhaps the world’s most famous rodeo clown in the sport of bull riding. He performs all over North America and is a yearly fixture at the Stampede. Backstage in a small locker room, with a “bull fighters” sign hung on the door, Rasmussen pulls out face makeup and starts the transformation into a rodeo clown.
“After 20 years of doing this, it’s still a thrill, every day,” Rasmussen says. “The Stampede is the one event you don’t have to explain to people what or where you are going. When you say ‘Stampede,’ everyone knows.”
Once Rasmussen enters his dressing room, routine comes into play. A Canadian flag is stuck under his right eye and a U.S. flag under his left. Makeup is applied in the same steps, time and time again. He sits in the same place, dresses the same way and puts on his microphone. After a final check, he enters the arena right before showtime.
“I always walk into the arena from the chutes, and there is always a little pause as I look around. I understand where I am. There are few places better than here.”
Miss Rodeo Canada, Jaden Holle, sprays a little hairspray on the long brunette curls tucked under her white cowboy hat, adorned with her crown. The 25-year-old started to get ready at home, several hours early. But a little alone time right before meeting people is always welcome.
Holle does hundreds of appearances a year as Miss Rodeo Canada, but the Stampede holds a special place for her, as she was also a Stampede Princess the year before.
Being Miss Rodeo Canada comes with the responsibility of presenting yourself in a certain way, and five minutes to showtime applies to Holle multiple times a day.
“I think it’s a great honour to represent rodeo, and to do it here at the Stampede, which is known all over the world. For me, it’s being an ambassador for the sport of rodeo, but more importantly being a role model for young people and to promote our Western Culture that I love,” Holle said.
Bareback bronc rider Ty Taypotat scrolls through music on his phone. He sits at the end of a long bench in a room filled with cowboys all getting ready to compete, all looking for that elusive $100,000 winning cheque from the Stampede. Stories fly off the walls as cowboys talk about horses and bulls they have drawn to ride.
But as the time ticks closer to his entrance, Taypotat gets quiet and pulls out a roll of white tape. Slowly, methodically, he starts to tape his left arm, an arm with a bicep as large as a junior steer rider’s waist. Starting at the wrist, he works the roll of tape tight, one of approximately 150,000 yards of tape rodeo cowboys will use in Canada this season.
Away from the screaming fans and crashing gates, Taypotat is focused on the horse he has drawn, Yipee Kibitz, and is lost in the arm-taping routine performed before every ride. The power of a bronc can rip a man’s arm right out its socket, and Taypotat’s arm is now finished, looking like a white cast. He slips his shirt on and smiles.
“It’s go time.”