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Mountain Region: How the West Is Being Won

16 Feb, 2015

By: Andrew Cohen

In an environment marked by rocky terrain, many organizations in the Mountain Region are finding ways to bring in large numbers of sports participants and enthusiasts — and economic activity. Some sports capitalize on the mountains themselves, while others invite athletes to enjoy the scenic views from inside state-of-the-art facilities.

Wyoming: Bringing in the Athletes

Casper: The newly formed Casper Sports Alliance, which is run by John Giantonio out of the Casper Convention and Visitors Bureau, recently became one of seven hosts awarded the American Mountain Bike Challenge, a  USA Cycling national qualifier with separate events that occur throughout the year, leading up to that group's national championship. The Sports Alliance has designated Casper Mountain’s Natrona Trail as the location of Bike Challenge, which will take place Aug. 22.

“My arrival here in February 2014 was the beginning of a truly organized effort to pursue events of all types to come to Casper,” says Giantonio. “We expect to draw people from surrounding states and the West who are chasing the national championship, and we hope to give them enough reasons to stay in Casper through the weekend. The Casper Sports Alliance is all about bringing in events and creating economic impact.”

Campbell County: Drawing people from surrounding states has become a centerpiece of the Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau’s strategy, especially since the 2010 opening of the Campbell County Recreation Center. Already the home of youth wrestling and state drama competitions, Gillette is now a magnet for collegiate and high school sporting events, thanks to the town’s location in the extreme northeast corner of the state and the recreation center’s inclusion of a NCAA Division I regulation indoor, six-lane, 200-meter track.

“We’ve kind of turned into a regional facility, and that was the intent when we built it,” says Dave McCormick, director of Campbell County Parks and Recreation, noting a track meet pitting the University of Wyoming against Montana State that promises to be an annual event in Gillette. “Laramie to Bozeman is probably 800 miles. For them to each go halfway and come here helps both those schools out.” With “word catching on,” McCormick says he’s been talking to several South Dakota schools, and in February was scheduled to host a six-team NCAA Division II meet, with Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D., officially the host.

Colorado: Mountain Highs for Sports

Greater Grand Junction: Out of a dual desire to showcase its athletics and recreational venues and to promote the wider community, Colorado Mesa University has taken the lead in development of the Greater Grand Junction Sports Commission. A partnership between the university, the city of Grand Junction, Mesa County, and two other nearby communities (Fruita and Palisade), the commission is the work of executive director Jennifer Stoll, who serves as an event manager with the school’s marketing and athletics departments.

“It’s a unique set-up, because a lot of times, CVBs have difficulty accessing university venues,” Stoll says. “Our model here offers the best of both worlds, because I’m employed by the university and they realize the importance of getting people on campus and showcasing their facilities.”

In its first six months, the commission has attracted multiple events, the first being a collegiate regional alpine skiing championship in February. In April, the commission will host one of Stoll’s signature events from her work at Colorado Mesa: The Maverick Classic, a collegiate regional championship cycling event that also has an open class, drawing top riders from around the country.

Aurora: In May, the City of Aurora will break ground on the addition of four synthetic multipurpose fields to the 23 existing turf fields at the Aurora Sports Park, a 220-acre site that plays host to major local, state and national soccer, Ultimate, cross-country, football, rugby and lacrosse competitions. (The sports park’s 12 diamonds are the site of numerous baseball and softball competitions, including the Triple Crown Fireworks tournament over the July 4 holiday).

“It’s not only going to allow us to host larger tournaments, but it’s going to extend our capacity to host events later into the season,” says Justin Clark, director of sales and marketing at Visit Aurora, Inc. “And also, by virtue of being synthetic, the new fields will allow us to potentially host more events because we’ll be able to put more play on those fields, whereas now we have to let the turf rest every so often. And last, the sports park is currently one of the larger facilities of its kind in the country, so this allows us to maintain that competitive advantage and be a good host for a wide variety of sports tournaments. It’s a really big deal for us.”

Nevada: Sports Get a Winning Hand

Carson City is continuing to evolve to meet the needs of sports planners. A plan to build a four-court basketball gymnasium has been approved by the Carson City board of supervisors, which would enable the Carson City Convention & Visitors Bureau to boost the number of hoops tournaments it brings in each year. The city, already the home of the Comstock Shootout soccer tournament and the All-World Sports baseball tournament, hopes to have the Mack Center ready to host basketball events in 2016.

Las Vegas: What happens in Vegas…just keeps coming back to Vegas, year after year. The city gets a huge share of basketball events every March, with the Mountain West Conference championships played at the Thomas & Mack Center, the West Coast Conference championships at the Orleans Arena and the PAC 12 Conference championships at the MGM Grand Arena.

“We have a wide range of facilities that can host just about anything,” says Michael Mack, vice president of marketing at Las Vegas Events. “When you decide to bring your event to Las Vegas, you’re marrying your event with our brand, and because it’s something people know and recognize, it really enhances the event itself.”

Vegas also draws the Wrangler National Finals in rodeo, a 10-day event hosted at the Thomas & Mack Center, as well as countless events at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The speedway hosts NASCAR Weekend (which draws upwards of 150,000 guests) as well as spring and fall NHRA events.

Billings, Montana: Tax-Free and Filled with Opportunities

If you consider Montana a “bucket-list destination,” you have a kindred spirit in Alex Tyson, executive director of Visit Billings. According to Tyson, Billings has a variety of attractions, starting with its first-class venues.

MetraPark, a 10,000-seat indoor arena, has hosted everything from the state wrestling tournament to rodeo to basketball championships to concerts. It is situated near the interstate, making it easily accessible to those driving in. In addition, the city boasts a soccer complex, Amend Park, a venue  versatile enough to have hosted the NCAA Division II Regional Cross-Country Championships (an event with a total of 29 women’s teams and 27 men’s teams).

On top of that, Tyson notes, Billings offers tax savings that other destinations don’t; the area has a lodging tax that is half the national average – and no sales tax whatsoever. “You have savings right away,” she points out.

The area has excellent connectivity, being situated near Interstates 90 and 94 as well as having an airport that puts Montana’s largest city within reach of major cities.

Utah: State of Sport

Utah, thanks to the Utah Sports Commission, has branded itself the “State of Sport,” something you’ll find illustrated in Tooele County. The area hosts a wide range of sports events, according to Jared Hamner, executive director of the Tooele County Chamber of Commerce. That’s due in large part to the presence of the Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway in the western edge of the county and Miller Motorsports Park on the eastern edge. Motocross, go-kart, auto, bike and raptor truck racing are the primary pursuits at Miller Motorsports Park, while out west, it’s land-speed racing.

“We have a real assortment of events,” says Hamner, noting the county’s wide-open spaces. “We have rock climbing, snowshoeing and mountain biking, and we host running clubs and biking clubs. Tooele County has more than 200 miles of trails you can do on an ATV, on horseback or on foot.” 

About the Author

Andrew Cohen

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