LAS VEGAS — It all starts with a jump. I’m sitting on a bluff overlooking the high-speed, Ultra4-inspired training course at Ford’s Bronco Raptor Off-Roadeo school outside Las Vegas, and I’m looking down at the first obstacle: a high-speed tabletop jump that is deceptively tricky to get right.
I start down a loose gravel trail, picking up some speed before a sharp banked turn in soft silt. The trick is to get the car straightened out as quickly as possible, then slowly rolling on the power without letting the rear-end kick loose and building speed towards the jump. Done properly and you gain speed and get a better jump. Do it wrong and the rear end slides around and you lose all your speed, or worse, head off the ramp in the wrong direction.
We have time for only a single run, so I have to make it count — somehow, I nail the corner perfectly and plant my foot on the gas, building speed towards the blind jump. As instructed, I let off the gas just before we leave the ground and take flight, kind of. Jumping the Bronco Raptor is more akin to a belly flop than a swan dive, but we have a blissful few seconds in the air — enough time for my brain to think “wow, we’re in the air! Holy smokes, I hope we land okay, wow, we’ve been up here a while, I hope someone got this on video.”
The off-road-spec FOX shocks absorb the landing with ease, and we dash off to the next obstacle. I have a modest amount of high-speed desert driving experience, but even I know that my jump was pretty epic, something confirmed by my enthusiastic instructor who was very pleased with my performance. No one got it on video.
What’s this all about? The Bronco Raptor Off-Roadeo is a one-of-a-kind off-road school offered free to every buyer of Ford’s best Bronco. This professionally-instructed driving experience kicks off at a sprawling basecamp at the foot of Mt. Potosi, a stone’s throw away from the Las Vegas strip. After an orientation, safety briefing, and helmet fitting, attendees hit the trail for Raptor Valley, a privately owned and custom-designed facility some 15 miles away. With multiple courses designed in collaboration with professional off-road drivers, attendees are guaranteed an authentic and thrilling off-road experience.
Following the thrill of the jump, the Off-Roadeo served up a series of challenging terrains. There was a technical, slow-speed course inspired by the Baja 1000 desert race — think frequent twists, turns, and changing terrains. But it’s the Ultra4 experience that is the star of the show, with fast sections, even more jumps, a brief rock crawl, and lots of deceptively tricky corners. Our brief media day was an accelerated visit, but the full 10-hour experience allows even a novice to build their skills. It was, in every sense, an adrenaline-fueled, dirt-in-your-teeth off-road masterclass.
What’s unique about this, beyond the sand-spitting, spine-tingling driving, is that it’s part of Ford’s larger effort to create a lifestyle brand around everything Bronco. The sizable gift shop, filled to the brim with Bronco-branded merch, is a testament to their success. The Off-Roadeo isn’t just about teaching Bronco Raptor owners how to handle their vehicles off-road (and how to leave as little of a footprint behind when doing so); it’s about immersing them in a lifestyle, a community, and a brand.
There are four Bronco Off-Roadeo locations around the country, one each in Nevada, Utah, Texas, and New Hampshire, but there’s only one Bronco Raptor school. And, though it shares the same entrance with the regular Nevada facility, the Bronco Raptor Off-Roadeo has its own welcome center, gift shop, and its own trails down at “Raptor Valley.” Included in the purchase of the Bronco Raptor, the Off-Roadeo adds considerable value and a compelling reason to buy this beast. It’s not just about owning an incredible vehicle; it’s about being a part of the Bronco Raptor story.
As I return my Bronco Raptor to the staging area after my day at the Off-Roadeo, I realize just how successful Ford has been in blending product, experience, and branding. Even if attendees might not take on the King of the Hammers anytime soon, for a day they get to live the Bronco lifestyle, feeling like part of the off-road elite as they navigate challenges they never imagined. It’s an experience that adds a whole new dimension to ownership, and that sense of adventure and community is at the core of what makes the Bronco Raptor the most compelling off-road SUV on the market.