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True Grit

2 Feb, 2018

By: Michael Popke
A Former Rough-and-Tumble Railroad City, Now an Attractive Destination for Sports Events

Urban legend has it that crime boss Al Capone once referred to Ogden, Utah, as a town too rough even for him. “Thirty-five miles north of Salt Lake City, Ogden always differed from more genteel Utah cities, a railroad and stockyard town with rough edges,” wrote Sunset Magazine in 2016 when declaring it the West’s “best medium-size town” in which to live.

Indeed, in the ensuing century since Capone’s brief stop, residents have turned the mobster’s declaration on its head, taking pride in the city’s colorful history. Local tourism officials boast of Ogden’s “grit” — proudly embracing its fierce independence and stark refusal to bend to fad or fashion.

“This is who we are,” says Anissa Brown, director of sales for Visit Ogden, which even created a brochure declaring Ogden as “Notoriously Eventful.” “We’ve embraced grittiness as a part of our history and turned it into a unique culture. I can be wearing ski boots and cowboy boots on the same day. We specialize in everything that is unique and adventurous.”

The Wall Street Journal has referred to Ogden as a “playground for adrenaline junkies.” To that end, at least a dozen major outdoor recreation companies built their national or international headquarters in Ogden — including Amer Sports and Mercury Wheels — and the Ogden area hosts everything from snowshoeing championships and triathlons to USA Cycling and World Archery Federation championships.
Then, of course, there is the skiing. Ogden’s Snowbasin Resort made international headlines as the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics alpine skiing races for the downhill, combined and super-G events and is located on the back side of the Wasatch Mountain Range. Since then, Ogden has emerged as a popular ski destination, hosting college downhill competitions, U.S. Snowboarding events and the Dew Tour.

Organizers of the 2002 Games also utilized The Ice Sheet in Ogden for curling events, where 97 percent of all tickets were sold. Today, the facility houses the Amateur Athletic Union’s Ogden Mustangs junior hockey team, Golden Spike Amateur Hockey and the Wasatch Figure Skating Club, as well as hosts several hockey, figure skating and curling competitions.

Hosting a sports event in Ogden is less costly for organizers and participants, according to Brown. “We are a more affordable option than some of our better-known neighbors,” she says. “You’re a big fish in a little pond when you come to Ogden.”

An Outdoor Paradise
Ogden is in north-central Utah at the base of the Wasatch Mountain Range. Its location 35 miles from Salt Lake City also translates to a 35-minute drive, Brown points out. The city boasts about 83,000 residents and is the county seat of Weber County.

Visit Ogden represents all of Weber County, including the picturesque Ogden Valley, comprised of multiple small municipalities surrounded by the Wasatch Range and Pineview Reservoir. One of the valley towns is called Eden, and it lives up to its name: “It’s heavenly,” Brown says.

Collectively, the region offers about 1,700 hotel rooms, many of them recently renovated, plus an extensive network of condos, homes and urban rentals.

Although traditional ball sports play a role in Ogden’s sporting scene, it should come as no surprise that local tourism officials also tout countless outdoor opportunities.

The region is a regular stop on several championship circuits, particularly ones sanctioned by USA Cycling. Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell even rode a bike to work every day for one year — rain, snow or shine — to promote the active transportation options in the community. “He prides himself on being part of our cycling community,” Brown says.

The Ogden Marathon, a Boston qualifier that takes place every May, is considered among the best in the world both for its scenic course and its organizational effectiveness. September’s Huntsville Marathon, another Boston qualifier, takes participants past autumn foliage at the top of the Monte Cristo Mountain Range down to the picturesque pioneer town of Huntsville.

Also in September, the XTERRA Trail Running National Championship and Pan American Championship bring more than 1,000 of the best amateur and professional triathletes and trail runners in the United States to the Ogden area.

Ogden hosted the inaugural USA Cycling Fat Bike National Championships in 2015 (and again in 2016) on a 12-mile course that took amateur riders across Power Mountain’s Hidden Lake terrain, while pro and open-class riders competed on a challenging 18-mile course.
As a result of that event’s success, Ogden created the Sweaty Yeti Fat Bike Race — part of the city’s annual Wasatch Yeti Bash every February. Participants can choose from four categories, ranging from amateur and high school to pro and open classes.

The city also is becoming a stop on the Professional Disc Golf Association’s National Tour schedule.

Of course, not all good things happen outside. The Golden Spike Event Center hosts rodeo and other horse events in an indoor arena, with possibly more competitions on the way. “The facility is under new management that is passionate about expanding what it can do,” Brown says.

The Ogden Eccles Conference Center, meanwhile, offers more than 70,000 square feet of flexible space and hosts multiple dance and cheer events, especially between March and May. The venue is adjacent to Peery’s Egyptian Theater, a former movie palace built in 1924 that has been restored to its original beauty and is available for dance and cheer team rehearsals and performances.

High-Adventure Spirit
Ball sports are in play in Ogden, too. The Spence Eccles Ogden Community Sports Complex opened in 2016 with one synthetic turf soccer field that holds 2,000 spectators and one multi-purpose field with seating for 1,000 spectators. Positioned at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains and operated by the Ogden City School District, the venue hosts youth soccer and lacrosse tournaments.

Lindquist Field, also located near the base of the Wasatch Mountains, is home of the Ogden Raptors, the advanced rookie farm team for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Boasting a seating capacity of 6,700, the venue not only hosts youth baseball tournaments but also has hosted non-baseball events, including Archery World Cup competitions.

The fact that the Raptors continue to lead the Pioneer League in attendance every year since the facility opened in 1997 indicates how enthusiastic local residents are about sports.

When they’re not watching sports, members of the community are often participating in recreational activities that also attract participants from out-of-town who stick around for a few extra days of fun.

One of the most popular destinations is the Salomon Center, which Brown says was a key component of Ogden’s post-Olympics rejuvenation and perfectly reflects the city’s high-adventure spirit. The giant indoor playground provides opportunities for indoor skydiving, surfing and rock climbing.

The cash-only Shooting Star Saloon in Hunstville is Utah’s oldest continuously operating saloon. It opened in 1879 and even survived 14 years during the Prohibition era. Memorable taxidermy is on display, and thousands of dollars bills line the ceiling.

Back in downtown Ogden, where the city’s “gritty” reputation lives on, Historic 25th Street “has been breaking the notions of conservative Utah for more than a century,” according to the Historic 25th Street Association’s website.

Once a magnet for brothels, political scandals and gang rivalries, Historical 25th Street today — recognized as one of the country’s greatest streets by the American Planning Association — is a thriving cultural center that is home to bike races, live theater, independent restaurants, galleries and boutique shops and mid-day yoga sessions that attract artists, foodies and curious visitors.

“Historic 25th Street is the soul of Ogden and the events it hosts throughout the seasons are its heartbeat,” announces the “Notoriously Eventful” brochure. But that’s not the only reason why Ogden has become a prime destination for sports event planners. Rather, today’s Ogden is the result of several leaders joining together over the years to meet a common goal.

“We’ve had passionate mayors and city council members who were serious about Ogden becoming a recreation mecca,” Brown says. “We pride ourselves on creating an experience for all attendees.” SDM

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