Mountain Highs for Sports Events
7 Mar, 2014By: Jenny Wierschem
The dramatic landscapes of the mountain region of the United States afford unparalleled opportunities for outdoor sports tournaments—from skiing to kayaking to cycling and more. The cities and towns within reach of the natural beauty of the region, however, offer much more than a place to lay your head when a day of skiing or whitewater rafting is over. These are destinations in their own right, with facilities capable of hosting a full range of sports at all levels.
A tour of the mountain region as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau takes in eight states: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Montana, Utah, Nevada and Wyoming. The distinct landscapes, facilities and cultures provide a wealth of choices for sports event organizers.
Casper, located in central Wyoming, is alongside Interstate 25 and is served by the Casper/Natrona County International Airport, making it a destination for regional travelers and those coming from further afield.
“We are blessed in Casper and Wyoming in general with the best outdoor recreation on Earth,” says Aaron McCreight, chief executive officer of the Casper Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Within minutes of whatever hotel you are staying in, you can be at Casper Mountain or the North Platte River.”
Casper Mountain is a popular destination for cross-country skiing, mountain biking and other activities, while the North Platte River offers opportunities for kayaking and boating. The Alcova Reservoir, which is about 30 minutes from Casper, is a draw for fishing and water recreation.
In addition to its strengths as a market for outdoor sports events, Casper has developed a reputation for successfully hosting large indoor tournaments. The city recently hosted the NJCAA Division I Volleyball Tournament and has been host for 15 years to the College National Finals Rodeo, both at the Casper Events Center.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs is, without a doubt, a sports hub.
“We are home to the United States Olympic Committee and 23 national governing bodies, so we have quite a sports presence in our community,” says Cheryl McCullough, senior sales manager for sports and special events with the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There is such a cross-section of sports, everything from ice sports to soccer and anything from a small peewee hockey tournament to an event that gets international media exposure.”
The Colorado Springs World Arena and Ice Hall is one of the city’s premiere indoor facilities. The complex that holds rodeo, hockey and other events is host to the 2014 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships. The World Arena Ice Hall has three sheets of ice: two NHL and one Olympic-sized.
The city’s hotels are popular venues for match sports, such as taekwondo. “We have some hotels that are great partners of ours who provide the space and lodging and are great at keeping everything under one roof, which is good for our youth market especially,” says McCullough.
Outdoor events can find homes at the El Pomar Youth Sports Park—with nine baseball/softball diamonds, eight natural grass soccer fields one synthetic turf field—or the Sky View Adult Softball Complex, among other facilities.
For sports events with an edge, Pike’s Peak offers a challenging environment. The mountain is home to Pike’s Peak Ascent and Marathon, races that pit runners against steep elevation climbs, as well as the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb auto race.
The City of Henderson, which is adjacent to Las Vegas in the Las Vegas Valley, affords visitors easy access to the transportation and entertainment options and amenities of that city, but also has its own identity as a sports tourism destination with sports facilities and non-gaming family-friendly hotels that provide flexible options for visitors.
Outdoor sports tournaments in Henderson benefit from the city’s warm, sunny climate.
“Henderson and the Las Vegas Valley average over 200 sunny days per year,” according to Kathy Blaha, public information officer for the City of Henderson. “With an average temperature of 80 degrees, annual rainfall of 4.2 inches and humidity around 30 percent, the climate is perfect for sporting events held throughout the year.”
Henderson’s commitment to sports shows in its facilities. The city has a combined total of 56 ball fields and 49 multi-purpose fields, three aquatics complexes, 11 pools and 16 regulation soccer fields. One of these facilities, the Henderson Multigenerational Center/Aquatic Complex, has both an indoor and outdoor pool. The Outdoor Competition Pool is a 50-meter competitive swimming pool with two three-meter and two one-meter competitive diving boards.
Las Vegas Valley’s largest multi-use sports complex is the 160-acre Heritage Park, which has lighted multi-use fields as well as lighted ball fields with warm-up areas, an amphitheater, covered picnic shelters, an open grass area, outdoor classrooms and miles of walking trails.
Henderson has a proven track record of hosting large sports tournaments, including the 2013 WTBA World Championships, the Ironman 70.3 Silverman and the 2012 U.S. Open Synchronized Swimming Championships, among others.
Missoula, located in Western Montana, leverages its natural and cultural resources to bring events to town. The Clark Fork River, in particular, provides some unique opportunities for water sports in the city.
“With the river that runs right through town, we can do a lot of kayaking and stand up paddle boarding,” says Mary Holmes, destination marketing sales manager for Destination Missoula. “The newest thing we have been seeing is river boarding.”
Brennan’s Wave is a popular manmade water feature for kayakers and surfers created downtown in the Clark Fork River. It has been the site of the U.S. National Freestyle Kayak Championships.
River sports aren’t the only outdoor sports events opportunities. Missoula has 105 miles of cross-country trails, hosts mountain biking events and is less than 15 miles from the Snowbowl ski area.
Not all of Missoula’s sports events hosting capabilities rely on the area’s natural resources. The city is well equipped to handle indoor sports and field-based sports as well. Recent tournaments have spanned basketball, Little League and martial arts, among other sports. The 2014 Missoula Laxfest lacrosse tournament is expected to bring in 1,000 people.
The University of Montana helps the city meet many of its sports event needs. For example, the university’s Washington-Grizzly Stadium can accommodate up to 25,000 spectators. The Missoula Area Youth Hockey Association runs Glacier Ice Rink, an ice-based sports facility with two NHL-sized ice sheets.
Park City, Utah
Park City is an internationally recognizable name, given its role as site of skiing and snowboarding events for the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics. Outside of the Olympics, it is also a household name as site of the Sundance Film Festival. The town is small, with less than 8,000 residents but the sports event opportunities are big.
One of the city’s strong areas is in ice-based sports. The Park City Ice Arena, built in 2006 and containing an international-sized ice sheet, fosters the development of ice-based sports locally and beyond.
“We do it all,” says Jon Pistey, general manager of the Park City Ice Arena. “We have youth hockey, adult hockey, figure staking, sled hockey, speedskating, curling—whatever we can do to put stuff on the ice. We have a lot of corporate groups that do curling events. They’ll rent the ice for two to three hours. We had Nike executives come and do a broomball tournament.”
The facility works to meet the needs of the local community, while also more broadly serving the needs of ice-based sports.
“Over the summer, we had the Park City Ice Hockey Invitational, which brought about 60 of the best 17-year-old hockey players in the United States to our rink,” says Pistey.
Yuma’s year-round warm weather, abundant sunshine low humidity make it a sports destination for outdoor sports such as golf and water sports along the Colorado River. The city boasts 16 golf courses, including the Desert Hills Municipal Golf Course.
Additionally, the Yuma Parks and Recreation Department’s 34 parks offer access to swimming pools, indoor basketball courts, lighted tennis courts, sand volleyball courts and fields for baseball, softball, football and soccer.