Rocky Mountain High
28 Feb, 2010By: Amy Henderson
The Bright Spots of the Mountain Region
102. That's the total number of ski resorts in the mountain region of the United States. No wonder winter sports are the leading outdoor activity in this area. This area provides acres of some of the lightest and driest powder on earth, making it one of the premier winter sports destinations.
The Olympic Influence
Coming off the heels of the XXI Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, the mountain region's most familiar sports will surely see a surge in popularity, once again bringing this region to the forefront of any event planner's mind.
Not only does the area provide excellent resources for Olympic qualifiers, but also for Olympic training.
In January, Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah hosted the VISA Freestyle International and the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix as final stops before athletes departed for Vancouver. Down the road at Utah Olympic Park in Salt Lake City the US Nordic Team, Luge, Skeleton, Bobsled and Nordic Combined did their final training for the Games.
"The Olympics are still a key piece of what we do, but it's only one piece," said Jeff Robbins, CEO and president of the Utah Sports Commission. "We've always had a fairly good collegiate and recreation base and in the last 10 years we have really focused on diversifying into things like motorsports, action sports, running events and Iron Man. We've really tried to diversify into a year round state of sport. However, the Olympics were certainly a catalyst."
Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort on Big Mountain in Flathead Valley, Montana hosts a plethora of downhill ski competitions as well as Olympic and Junior Olympic qualifiers. "Six of the seven-team members of the inaugural snowboarding team in the 1998 Olympics were from Whitefish," said Dori Muehlhof, executive director of the Flathead Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We are 3,000 feet above elevation and get dry, fluffy powder which is great for snowboarding."
Even New Mexico may see an Olympic kickback. "The community of Taos, New Mexico has been actively marketed as a high altitude training community," explains Noah Trujillo, deputy director of the New Mexico Sports Authority. "They have been very involved with hockey, lacrosse and getting soccer going in the area. They are trying to get within USA sports and encourage (the athletes) to train in Taos - an elevation of 7,500 feet - for international competitions."
State run or regional sports organizations provide an invaluable service to planners. Not only do they offer resources that will suit a specific event but they also offer suitable options within their region. The New Mexico Sports Authority, Utah Sports Commission, Metro Denver Sports Commission and Boise Sports Council are just a few examples in the mountain region.
"Our number one partner is the Utah Sports Commission," explains Joel Racker, CEO of the Utah Valley Convention Visitors Bureau. "They go out and facilitate events throughout the state. They brought the Dew Tour and other big name events to our area."
"We bring a broader one stop shop type of service," said Robbins. "It's also nice having things under one umbrella with a common message. We aggregate all the economic impact, not just the hotel rooms. Some events will spend $2 to 3 million on infrastructure outside of room nights. We take a more strategic look and although we want to drive short term success, sometimes you have to have a longer vision and have more success in the end."
Flathead Valley works closely with Glacier County Tourism and the Montana Office of Tourism. "That covers all of northwest Montana," said Muehlhof. "It's a huge area and probably the most tourism-based part of the state. Billings has taken the lead with funding and has a great sports complex."
Noah Trujillo believes in promoting the state as a destination. "We know that Albuquerque is here and it's the hub (of the state)," he explains. "But we have to do our best to reach out to the smaller communities and drive events there. We need to support those smaller community events."
"We definitely market the tourist destinations that people talk about, like Santa Fe," Trujillo continued. "When events come to Albuquerque we do market other communities so the events get to the other parts of the state."
More than Just Snow
What's working for these destinations?
"We are known for large families, youth sports and support for youth sports," said Racker. We have a ton of great facilities, soccer fields and a great wrestling program at Utah Valley University. Lodging is more affordable with select service hotels-they tend to work really well with youth groups."
Flathead Valley is the gateway to Glacier National Park and cross country skiing rules, but outdoor activities abound in the spring and summer. "There are 700 miles of hiking trails and one of the most used backcountry camping in Glacier Park," explained Muehlhof. "You get the bonus of a vacation atmosphere with your event. It's a quality of life and added bonus of all the area attractions without competing with big crowds. The value of what you get here is quite significant from the lodging to the food and recreation at a very affordable price."
Ditto for Rio Rancho, New Mexico. This area has seen a surge in sports over the last several years. "We are a suburb of Albuquerque and the second fastest growing city in New Mexico," explains Matt Geisel of the Rio Ranch Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Being a state without professional franchises, high school sports are huge here. Our niche within sports is adult amateur, local and state competitions."
"Making everyone feel special is a big benefit of coming to Rio Rancho," explains Geisel. "You don't get lost in a sea of events like in a big city. We emphasize convenience and location and ease in working with us. We look for events that may feel overwhelmed and may not be big enough to get on the radar in a big location. We're not fancy, but very practical."
Some of the highlights in 2010 aren't what you might expect from the mountain region. Utah Valley will host the USA Wrestling Kids Greco Roman & Freestyle Tournament, the Great West Conference Men's & Women's Basketball Championship, and the USA Baseball NTIS Prospect Games.
In June, the US Youth Soccer Regions 4 Far West Regional is expected to bring in 22,000 room nights and over 5,000 visitors to Albuquerque and Rio Rancho.
"That is an event we try and go after," said Trujillo. "It's a great piece of business and it's a great time of year for soccer in our state. New Mexico offers the affordability and accessibility." The New Mexico Sports Authority has also secured the United States Track & Field Championships for three years starting in 2010.
If You Build it, They Will Come
It worked with a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield, why not a convention center in Utah?
"This June we are breaking ground on a new convention center with 120,000 square feet of space," said Racker. The 120-foot-high structure is a $45 million project in downtown Provo and will provide additional space for the growing sports industry in Utah Valley. "It's going to be a significant facility and we will be responsible for marketing that facility," said Racker. Construction is projected to be complete by early 2012.
In Rio Rancho, the Santa Ana Star Center, a three-year-old multi purpose event facility has recently added Global Spectrum to manage their events. "They are working with the community," said Geisel. They understand the economic impact for different events and why they make sense for us."
With or without sunglasses, the future of sports events in the mountain region is bright.