Winter Sports

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Sports Event Planners are Ready for Ski Season but is Mother Nature?

14 Dec, 2016

By: Michael Popke

There may not be snow on the ground yet in Hayward, Wisconsin, but local ski officials have a huge beacon of hope for the coming season. The American Birkebeiner, a cross-country ski race, recently was named one of the 2016 Champions of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism by Sports Destination Management. The “Birkie” is North America’s largest such races; in 2016, it welcomed skiers from 22 countries and 46 states, who took part in the race that traveled through the north woods of Wisconsin on the more than 100-kilometer-long Birkie Trail.

According to the American Birkebeiner website:

The late Tony Wise who looked to his Norwegian heritage and patterned the ski marathon after the Birkebeiner Rennet, which had been held in Norway since 1932, founded the American Birkebeiner in 1973. Both events honor and re-create a historic Norwegian event when in 1206, two warrior soldiers, called “Birkebeiners” because of the birch-bark leggings they wore, skied infant Prince Haakon to safety during the Norwegian civil war. Prince Haakon subsequently became King of Norway, and the Birkebeiner soldiers became a Norwegian symbol of courage, perseverance and character in the face of adversity.

Over the years many thousands of people, both elite and “Citizen Skiers,” have enjoyed the thrill of personal triumph crossing the finish line of the Birkie and earning their prestigious award medallions.

The American Birkebeiner Trail also was recently voted the best cross country ski resort in USA Today’s “10 Best Readers’ Choice” awards. 

The Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah, also is racking up awards. In late November, it was named “Best United States’ Ski Resort” for the fourth consecutive year by the World Ski Awards. The designation is based on votes garnered worldwide from ski tourism professionals, including luxury travel consumers, industry executives, tour operators, agents, media and travel buyers.

KSL/TV in Salt Lake City claims tourism continues to escalate in Utah, which boasts “the greatest snow on earth.”

“A study released earlier this year said tourism in Utah grew despite a down year in the ski and snowboard industry due to a mild winter with a below-average snowfall,” according to the network. “Spending at winter resorts totaled $1.1 billion in 2014, the study said. In 2013, local ski resorts, national parks and other attractions brought in $1 billion in tax revenue for Utah, according to the Utah Tourism Industry Association — an increase from $890 million in 2012.”

“Record-setting number of ski days in 2015-16, sparked in part by an improving economy and lower fuel prices, has pushed tourism into a nearly $8 billion industry annually,” added Utah Business.

With plenty of snow available in Utah early this season, other destinations are expecting a successful season, too. In New England, for example, officials from the New Hampshire Division of Travel & Tourism Development forecasts that 8.2 million people will spend an estimated $1.2 billion in the state between December and February — a good chunk of that coming from the ski and snow industry.

That said, a lack of snow in other parts of North America has some resort owners and event organizers dreaming of a white Christmas. Following a pattern established last year, the International Ski Federation canceled a men’s World Cup at Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada, which was scheduled for Nov. 26-27.

If lack of snow proves to a problem again this year, trucking in the white stuff from other destinations might become an even more popular solution than it’s been in the past.

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