Mountain High: Great States for Sports
1 Mar, 2013By: Jenny Wierschem
The Mountain States are defined by the dramatic terrain and beauty of the Rocky Mountains, so it’s perhaps no surprise that sports in these states so often take place in venues provided by Mother Nature. However, with a little study, this region emerges as so much more than mountainous terrain. Mountain peaks descend to river valleys, and expansive views open up across desert, plains, or high desert. Cowboy culture aside, this region is home to growing cities that are home to state-of-the art indoor and outdoor athletics facilities.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs is without question a sports hub. It is home to over 20 National Governing Bodies that regulate specific sports and sanction events, as well as the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). The city hosts events at the local, state, national, and international levels, and across ages.
“We have hosted everything from hockey to figure skating to wakeboards to car racing,” says Cheryl McCullough, sports and special events sales manager for the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The city’s premier sports facility is the U.S. Olympic Training Center, which is a training ground for Olympic and Paralympic athletes and also opens its doors to tours for visitors. For youth sports, the El Pomar Youth Sports Park offers baseball/softball fields and soccer fields. Pikes Peak, which is adjacent to the city, serves as a mountain course for both auto racing and an extreme conditions marathon.
Grand Junction, Colorado
Grand Junction sits amidst a red rock canyons region and boasts vineyards in the valley. The city’s name comes from its placement at the junction of the Colorado River and Gunnison River. These natural formations add up to a range of options for sports event opportunities.
Grand Junction is home to, among other facilities, the El Pomar Natatorium at Colorado Mesa University.
“The Natatorium is the newest, most technically advanced flexible swim facility west of the Mississippi,” says Layne Whyman, convention services coordinator for the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau.
Grand Junction has been home for over 50 years to Junior College World Series baseball, an event that takes place at Suplizio Field and that brings community members into the action. Each year, locals adopt teams that travel from all over the nation and support those teams during the JUCO World Series.
“We are not a huge town,” says Mistalynn Meyeraan, marketing and public relations coordinator with the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau. “The whole urban area is about 140,000 people, so these sports events, the tournaments that come in, really make an impact on our economy.”
Aurora, located in the Denver metro area is the third largest city in Colorado—and growing. The city’s premier sports facility, the Aurora Sports Park, is within easy access of Denver International Airport and I-70.
Construction on Aurora Sports Park was fully completed in 2004. The facility has 23 soccer/multi-use fields and 12 baseball/softball fields, in addition to the capability to host football, rugby, lacrosse and other sports at all levels of competition.
“What’s fantastic about our fields is we have the ability to switch the orientation from day to day, so you aren’t wearing out the patterns,” says Kate Bleakley, director of sales for Visit Aurora. “It’s also located just north of Buckley Air Force Base, so it’s kind of cool that you get your own air show.” The sports park has approximately 1,200 parking spaces and all fields are natural grass.
Other sports event opportunities abound in Aurora, with five golf courses and recreational water activities at the Aurora Reservoir ranging from fishing to windsurfing to SCUBA diving.
Missoula, in Western Montana, offers sports event opportunities within town and in the wilds beyond.
“We definitely have some good venue options to offer here,” says Mary Holmes, destination marketing sales manager for Destination Missoula. “One resource that Missoula has that is really great is the University of Montana.”
The Adams Center at the university, which has the largest indoor seating capacity in western Montana, has hosted basketball, wrestling, martial arts, roller derby, volleyball, gymnastics and other sports events. The university’s Grizzly Pool is home to aquatic competitions.
A range of outdoor competitions are also easily accommodated. Brennan’s Wave, a manmade whitewater kayaking playpool with a spectator overlook, was created in the Clark Fork River downtown and became the site of the 2012 US Freestyle Kayaking Championship. The surrounding area has opportunities for fishing, golfing, disc golf and horseback riding. The Montana Snowbowl Resort, just 15-minutes outside of town, has 2,600 feet of vertical drop for skiing.
Cliff formations called the Rimrocks offer a sweeping view of Billings below, and these formations figure into the sports event landscape of the town. The trails, along with facilities throughout the city, are used for the Big Sky State Games, an event that draws 10,000 athletes from the region.
The event covers “everything from ballroom dancing to basketball,” according to Alex Tyson, executive director of the Billings Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Each year, Billlings also hosts the state All Class Wrestling Tournament, which is held at MetraPark, a multi-facility event venue.
“Wrestling is a big deal in Montana; actually, all sports are. I’ve never seen a city embrace sports like Billings does and like Montana does in general,” says Tyson.
The presence of Rocky Mountain College, Montana State University, and other facilities expands the range of athletic events that can be held. Soccer and tennis are current strengths of Billings, and lacrosse is growing.
A direct flight from Salt Lake City, Denver, Phoenix, or Las Vegas can put you in easy reach of skiing, boating, swimming, and some of the best big game trout fishing in the world in Casper, Wyoming.
“We really view ourselves as the Adventure Capital of not only Wyoming, but the region,” says Aaron McCreight, chief executive officer of the Casper Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The North Platte River runs through town, and Alcova Lake within a half hour of downtown offers ample water recreation opportunities. For indoor sports, the city’s crown jewel is the Casper Events Center, a 10,000-seat multi-use arena that has been home to state volleyball, wresting, and basketball, as well as College National Finals Rodeo, which has been held in Casper for the past 13 years.
“When tournaments come to town, they typically don’t leave,” says McCreight. “They like to come back. We have a tremendous number of volunteers. These tournaments go to the bigger areas and they kind of get lost. You are the star of Casper when your tournament is going on and you are appreciated for it.”
Campbell County, Wyoming
Gillette, the county seat of Campbell County, Wyoming, is a center for energy industries: coal, coalbed methane, and oil. What does that have to do with sports? A lot. Revenue from these industries has made the county a rich one and has resulted in investment in infrastructure, including sports facilities.
“For a community our size, we have some great facilities,” says Mary Silvernell, executive director of the Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The CAM-PLEX is a multi-event facility that is home to the National High School Finals Rodeo on a rotation basis. It also contains the Spirit Hall Ice Arena, which has a National Hockey League-sized ice rink. The CAM-PLEX can accommodate parking for 1,700 RVs.
Another multi-use facility is the Campbell County Recreation Center, a $52 million project that opened in 2010. It offers tennis courts, a track, and a climbing wall, and can also accommodate aquatics, basketball, volleyball, and squash.
Boise takes advantage of its position on the Boise River within city limits. It has converted a portion of the river downtown into the Boise River Park, which can accommodate kayaking, paddle boarding, and surfing events.
In the winter months, visitors to Boise can travel less than 20 miles for snow sport events. The Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation area is equipped for skiing (downhill, cross-country, and freestyle), snowshoeing, tubing, and snowboarding.
Boise has also hosted events that required coordination across facilities in the area, including Ironman 70.3 and the Special Olympics World Winter Games.