Photos by Matt Finnigan, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43
Folsom Field Colorado Ave Boulder, CO 80302
Year Opened: 1924 Capacity: 50,183
The Buffalo Roam Under Boulder's Flatirons
Folsom Field, home to the Pac-12 Conference’s University of Colorado Buffaloes, is not the largest college football stadium in the country. Folsom seats 50,183, less than half of the capacities of the football stadiums at places such as the University Michigan (107,601); Penn State University (106,572); and Ohio State University (102,780). Nor is Folsom the newest football stadium in the country, as it will celebrate its centennial in 2024. But set against the dramatic Flatirons to the stadium’s west, Folsom has beauty and spectator proximity to the playing field that schools with larger and newer stadiums envy.
Folsom is also home to one of college football’s greatest traditions: Ralphie’s run just before the first- and second-half kickoffs. Since 1967, a live buffalo has charged ahead of the CU team as it takes the field. Five “handlers,” all current CU students, run Ralphie south along Folsom Field’s east sideline, across the field, north along the west sideline, and into a trailer sitting behind the north end zone (frequently as surprised opponents are taking the field). Ralphie’s handlers must try out, complete physical exams, driving tests, and background checks before being selected; if selected, each handler must dedicate approximately 30 hours per week to Ralphie’s care and to the school’s live mascot program. “Ralphie” is a female buffalo because males are much bigger and are more easily excitable.
Between stunning views around the stadium, high-level competition, and the chance to watch an American bison charge the field, even casual college football fans will enjoy a game at Folsom.
Food & Beverage 3
There are plenty of places to buy food and beverages at Folsom Field but long, slow-moving lines routinely form. CU has created several “grab and go” concession stands, where customers pick up food (hot dogs, nachos, pretzels, etc.) and bottled drinks from heated racks and large refrigerators, respectively. Fans will find these concession stands in Balch Fieldhouse, behind the west grandstand, and behind the grandstand on Folsom’s east side. Although this arrangement can alleviate long lines, the food quality seems to suffer. Nacho cheese congeals while waiting to be purchased alongside stale chips. The frequent opening and closing of refrigerators prevents the bottled soft drinks inside from staying cold. The grab-and-go concept can work at a sporting event but the execution at Folsom Field needs improvement.
The courtyard outside Balch Fieldhouse’s south entrance, just outside Folsom Field’s Gate 1, provides the best concessions. There, fans can enjoy the weather, snap a photo with the “Monarch of the Plains” buffalo statue, and find several interesting dining options. Steuben’s restaurant, a Denver comfort food tradition, serves a delicious Nashville chicken sandwich ($14) and a green chile cheeseburger ($13) that are quite good. Jake’s Mini Donut Diner offers donuts with cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar, chocolate dip, and sprinkles for $6 per bag.
Pepsi products are the exclusive soft drinks at Folsom Field, selling for $4 per can. Bottled still (Aquafina) and sparkling water (Bubly) also sell for $4.
Those seeking a more adult beverage will not be disappointed. Boulder’s Avery Brewing Company and CU developed a lager, Stampede, that is the official beer of the CU Athletic Department and bears Ralphie’s visage on each can. It’s available, along with other craft beers, for $12 for 16 ounces and $10 for 12 ounces. Twenty-four ounce domestic beers (Coors products) sell for $13.50. Fans will also find Vizzy and Topo Chico hard seltzers for $14 per can.
When filled, Folsom Field presents opponents with a loud and intimidating atmosphere. Configured as a horseshoe, with the “open” end behind the stadium’s north end zone, Folsom has large scoreboards with video screens at either end. Folsom’s grandstands have only metal bleachers. Fans can rent cushioned seatbacks for $8 outside the stadium’s southeast entrances. This can be a worthwhile purchase for fans with sore backs or who do not wish to sit on cold metal later in the season. More comfortable seats are available in luxury suites and premium seating areas. Folsom Field’s 1924 design did not leave much room between the sidelines and the stands, so the crowd is very close to the action.
The stadium’s scoreboard video screens receive good use. Historical footage of Ralphie is shown as part of a pre-game countdown. The Golden Buffalo Marching Band performs before each game and at halftime. The Buffs’ human mascot, “Chip,” is one of the nation’s best. During late-season games, Chip has been known to create his own small berm from which he can jump on a snowboard. There is much to like about the atmosphere, but Folsom Field needs to upgrade its sound system, which fans cannot hear in certain sections (Section 204, as an example).
There are several seating options. For those wanting a great view of Ralphie as she leads the team onto the field, Sections 119, 120, and 121 are your best bets. The seats on Folsom Field’s east side face the mountains to the west, providing a dramatic backdrop to the action on the field. Seating on the west side of the stadium is good for those who might want to take cover in the adjacent Balch Fieldhouse, where concession stands, big-screen televisions, and warmth are all contained under one roof. The visiting team’s fans and band typically sit in Sections 101, 102, and 103.
Folsom Field is situated on CU’s Boulder campus within easy walking distance of all buildings and parking facilities. Just to the west of campus, University Hill provides several locations for food and drink also within walking distance of Folsom Field. The campus teems with beauty and is worth exploring. Old Main, the first building constructed on CU’s campus, opened a few months before Colorado became a state in 1876 and houses the CU Heritage Center. For those wanting to learn more about Ralphie or the rest of the university, the Heritage Center warrants a visit. The Heritage Center also has a LEGO model of the CU campus comprised of approximately 1 million bricks, as well as artifacts belonging to CU alumnus and astronaut Ellison Onizuka that were recovered from the Space Shuttle Challenger’s wreckage in 1986.
Boulder’s University Hill sits just west of the CU campus, across Broadway. Bars, shops, and restaurants line 13th Street. The Sink, at the corner of 13th and Pennsylvania Avenue, opened in 1923, one year before Folsom Field’s debut. The Sink is within an easy walk of the stadium and its burgers warrant inclusion in any discussion of the nation’s best. Actor Robert Redford worked as a janitor at the Sink in 1955 while he was a student on a baseball scholarship at CU.
Beyond campus, Boulder has dining, drinking, and entertainment options for just about everyone. The Pearl Street Mall, a three-block long pedestrian mall with shops and restaurants, sits less than two miles from Folsom Field. Closer to campus, the Twenty-Ninth Street Mall is an open-air shopping center with restaurants to suit any taste or budget.
There are plenty of nearby options for fans looking for something other than a bar or restaurant. Boulder’s Chautauqua Park, at Baseline Road and 9th Street in Boulder, has some of the town’s best hiking and rock climbing. It also has a full dining hall and close-up views of the Flatirons, for those looking for a tamer kind of adventure. The paved Boulder Creek path begins west of campus in Boulder Canyon and parallels the creek through downtown Boulder, across CU’s campus just north of and down the hill from Folsom Field, and travels five miles to east Boulder. Fans can easily walk or bicycle to games along the creek path.
One of the best aspects of a Buffs game is the enthusiasm of the students. Seated on Folsom Field’s east side, the student section, the “CUnit,” generates most of the crowd’s energy. The students are loud, engaged, and thrilled when good fortune finds the CU gridders. The students also sing along with the Golden Buffalo Marching Band. Other fans are engaged as well, but the students and the band seemingly fuel the team’s play.
The Buffs drew home crowds that filled Folsom at an average of 91 percent between 2015-2019, according to College Football News. Only Oregon (102.8%), Utah (101.2%), Washington (94.9%), and Washington State (92.7%) filled their stadiums to higher percentages in the Pac-12 during that time. Folsom does not sell out regularly but that may change as the program improves.
Getting to Folsom Field is much easier than getting around Folsom Field once there. The Regional Transportation District (RTD) operates several bus lines from Denver to Boulder, with several bus stops at or near Folsom Field. The closest stop is at Folsom Street and Colorado Avenue. Fans can also reach Folsom Field by bike or by foot from just about anywhere in Boulder. The City of Boulder has an excellent bike-sharing program that recently added 100 electric bikes to its existing, 300-bike fleet. Parking at the CU Events Center garage is $30 per car and likely the closest public parking available. Alternatively, fans can park for $15 per car at CU’s East Campus east of the stadium on Colorado Avenue. The walk is long but shuttle buses run frequently between the parking lot and the stadium.
Because Folsom Field is nearing its 100th birthday, however, negotiating its walkways and concourses can take time. The concourses in and outside the stadium can be narrow – as is to be expected at an older facility. But lines at concession stands are long and slow, winnowing the space in nearby concourses such that fans must slide around one another. Balch Fieldhouse tends to fill during pre-game and halftime; otherwise, it is a nice place to find shelter and food.
Return on Investment 3
The cost to attend a game at Folsom Field compares favorably to the cost of attending a game at other Power Five conference schools. Single-game tickets begin at $40 for seats in the upper level of Folsom Field’s south end. A 50 yard-line seat, 20 rows from the field sells for $130. CU does offer multiple-game and season ticket packages, both of which enable fans to buy game tickets at lower prices.
Concession prices are consistent with pricing at most large sporting events, perhaps slightly higher. A cheeseburger sells for $12.50, while personal pizzas are available for $12; hot dogs are $6 apiece. Fans can also snack on traditional stadium fare: popcorn ($6), pretzels ($5), and candy ($5). Although CU does not permit fans to bring coolers into Folsom Field, empty thermoses are allowed and water stations can be found around the stadium’s perimeter. Fans can thus hydrate without having to spend money or wait in lines at concession stands.
A point is awarded in recognition of the grass-roots funding for Ralphie’s feeding, maintenance, and care. CU’s live mascot program – arguably college football’s best – is funded entirely through donations from fans.
The Buffs earn another point for recycling. CU has introduced zero-waste and carbon-reduction programs at all home sporting events that include a cool promotion. The Buffs convert recycled plastic bottles, collected after games at Folsom Field, into the t-shirts that CU’s spirit squad throws into the stands to celebrate every CU touchdown.
Also, a point goes to CU’s Pearl Street Stampede. The night before each home game, CU holds a pep rally along the Pearl Street Mall in downtown Boulder. The team throws miniature footballs into the crowd and the CU spirit squads participate, while the Golden Buffalo Marching Band plays to the delight of those gathered along the mall.
Folsom Field may not have the size or new-stadium smell of other college football venues, but it has plenty of other assets. Simply put, Boulder is one of college football’s most stunning settings. The Flatirons loom beyond the stadium’s southwestern corner and CU’s campus has postcard-quality beauty. Seeing Ralphie lead the team onto the field just enhances the allure of a game at Folsom Field.
Follow Matt Finnigan’s stadium journeys on Twitter @mattfinniganco