Mountains: Rocky Mountain High
29 Feb, 2012By: Amy Henderson
Most everyone can sing along to John Denver’s 1970’s hit, "Rocky Mountain High," even if they’ve never traveled west of Tennessee.
In addition to being part of a catchphrase from an equally catchy tune, the mountainous areas of the U.S. offer spectacular backdrops and have the most diverse terrain and highest elevations in our 50 states. You can go from mountaintops to desert within the region and experience world class events and facilities along the way. With such variety, it only stands to reason that both indoor and outdoor sports abound.
The mountain region is comprised of eight states including Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, and has representation from the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball as well as minor league and collegiate teams.
The abundance of high elevations lends itself to winter sports with over 100 ski resorts scattered among the eight states – ideal for regional, national and Olympic qualifying events in all outdoor sports.
Casper, Wyoming is located in the middle of the state and has the best of both worlds with Casper Mountain and Platte River offering a playground of activities for all athletes.
“Casper Mountain offers so much no matter what the season,” explained Aaron McReight, CEO of the Casper Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “In winter, we have skiing and snowmobiling and hiking and biking trails in the summer. We offer the best combination of a mountain and river within 15 minutes of downtown.”
Butte, Montana is blessed with ample rivers allowing an abundance of fishing opportunities at Big Hole, Beaverhead and Jefferson Rivers. Likewise, over in Missoula, Flathead, Georgetown, Salmon, Holland and Placid Lakes offer fishing year round with a number of ideal ice fishing locations.
Aurora, Colorado is known as the Gateway to the Rockies. “It’s a great and perfect backdrop to our destination,” said Gary Wheat, President/CEO with Visit Aurora. “We get 300 days annually of sunshine and the weather cooperates a great deal to make it a great place for sports.”
Gillette, Wyoming also has ideal outdoor venues with some fantastic sites as well. “We have a multitude of wildlife,” said Val Burgess with Burgess Design Group, the agency for the Campbell County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Wyoming is really an outdoor place but facilities allow opportunities for events year round.”
Idaho, meanwhile, has moved beyond its reputation as the spuds capital of the nation, and is fast making a name for itself in sports. Home to the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games, NCAA basketball semi-finals, 70.3 Ironman, the Far West Regional Soccer Championships and a host of other events, Boise is positioning itself as the place to get out and play.
Manmade Resources and the Events
Let’s face it, not everyone is an outdoor sports enthusiast. Some prefer indoor venues and even in the mountains, there are plenty to choose from.
Denver will host the NCAA Women’s Final Four at the Pepsi Center with approximately 30,000 visitors. Kearns, Utah in March hosted the Essent ISU World Cup Long Track Speedskating event and 2012 USA Hockey High School National Championships took place at Olympic Oval in January.
Colorado Springs will welcome the 2012 and 2013 Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Associates National Championships to El Pomar Youth Sports Park. USA Ultimate will be held in July at the U.S. Air Force Academy hosting 24 teams in three divisions. As many as 600 disc athletes will compete.
U.S. Figure Skating and the International Skating Union (ISU), hosted the 2012 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships at World Arena and World Arena Ice Hall in February with more than 100 athletes from 12 countries.
Gillette is the Energy Capital of the United States and the financial support of this industry has been instrumental in the development of some of the area’s finest sports facilities.
“Our facilities are truly second to none,” said Burgess. “CAM-PLEX is a multi-purpose facility with over 202,000 square feet of flexible space with tons of parking. The Campbell County Recreation Center has a total of 190,000 square feet.”
Energy Hall in CAM-PLEX hosted the 2011 National High School Finals Rodeo, the world’s largest rodeo with 41 states, five Canadian provinces and representation from Australia. The event returns to Gillette in 2014.
The Casper Events Center is an 8,395 seat multi-purpose arena and home to the Wyoming Cavalry Arena Football Team. They recently hosted the Rocky Mountain Indoor Soccer Cup with 48 teams and will host the College National Rodeo Finals in June. The Rose Bowl of Rodeos recently extended their commitment to Casper through 2022.
The Aurora Sports Park features 23 full size soccer fields and 12 baseball/softball fields. “It’s an all-inclusive sports facility,” said Wheat. The Triple Crown Colorado Fireworks softball tournament takes place every June. The 2011 event drew 186 teams resulting in 50,000 attendees, 38,000 room nights and a conservative economic impact of $10 million.
Aurora will also act as host to the 2012 International Powerlifting Federation’s World Masters Bench Press Championships and the 2014 IPF World Men’s and Women’s Powerlifting Championships at the Red Lion Hotel.
Aurora is a military community with 12,000 military personnel at Buckley Air Force Base which often makes a memorable impact on visitors. “The F16 Falcons take off and land (at Buckley AFB),” explained Wheat. “If you are at SportsPark, you can look up and get a flyby. We call it bird watching Aurora style.”
Over in Montana, the Butte Civic Center has over 19,000 square feet of usable space on the arena floor and hosted the Elite Professional Bullriders in January featuring the top 35 riders in the EPB. The Northern Rodeo Association Finals will take place October 11-13, 2012.
There’s an old saying in raising a child, ‘It takes a village.' The same can be said of hosting a sports tournament.
“Our office couldn’t do this by ourselves,” said McReight. “We have a great relationship with the City of Casper and I can’t talk enough about our volunteers. With one event after another, they are always there and always willing to help.”
The same rings true in Aurora. “Our Parks & Rec Department has been integral in our successes and we are looking to work with the Denver Metro Sports Commission for future events as we continue to grow,” said Wheat.
Burgess concurs but has a slightly different approach, “The state of Wyoming has more cattle than people,” she explained. “So in terms of people who care about your event, you really get that. There isn’t an event that goes unnoticed.”
Fun and Future Resources
Every athlete needs a little time for some fun and the mountain region offers plenty.
“We definitely have a lot going on,” said Chelsy Murphy, Public Relations Manager with Experience Colorado Springs. “We have the Windwalker Challenge Course which is really a unique cross between a ropes course and zip line. People can be as adventurous as they want to be.”
The Colorado Wolf & Wildlife Center now offers the public the opportunity take a walk with the wolves. “It’s all about education,” explained Murphy. “They have an ambassador wolf available at the end of the experience.”
If that’s not enough, Pike’s Peak Highway is now fully paved and allows anyone to drive the highway.
Ditto in Casper. “We offer a lot of different things for a lot of different folks,” said McReight. “When they come here, it takes a minute to convince them that Casper is the place for them, but once they are here and see the attention they receive, they are in.” Casper is in the process of completing a 'field of dreams' project which will be a six-field complex for youth tournaments.
Gillette is a young community with a median age of 34; it is looking to develop additional outdoor fields and another avenue for athletics with super fields.
Aurora is excited about the proposed Gaylord Rockies Hotel, with 1,500 rooms and 400,000 square feet scheduled to open in a few years. “That will be a real game changer for us,” said Wheat.
With all these exciting changes on this spectacular horizon, stay tuned to the mountain region.