ASPEN - Aspen will enjoy the USA Pro Challenge spotlight for the third straight year this summer, but Snowmass Village will be in the limelight like never before as the host resort for the athletes and their entourages.
As a host community, Aspen/Snowmass is once again expected to provide as many as 750 hotel accommodations to the athletes, their entourages and others associated with the pro bicycling race - some 1,000 people in all - but instead of staying in Aspen, this year the contingent will be grouped in Snowmass Village. Meals will be provided there, as well.
The team RVs, which were parked in Aspen last year and proved a popular attraction with spectators who wandered around inspecting the bicycles used by the racers and gathered outside trailer doors in hopes of collecting autographs from the sport's biggest stars, also will be in Snowmass Village. They'll be parked in the upper lots at Snowmass this year.
Aspen and Snowmass will host the first stage of this year's third running of the USA Pro Challenge, a weeklong event that takes pro riders around Colorado. The opening leg, on Monday, Aug. 19, will be circuit races that has the 120 participating riders making laps on a loop between Aspen and Snowmass Village. Aug. 20's Stage 2 will start in Aspen and travel to Breckenridge.
Choosing a route that Pitkin County officials find acceptable, however, has proven challenging so far. Various alternatives are under consideration after commissioners were cool to the initial proposal last month. Organizers will be back before commissioners on March 12 and Nancy Leslie, special events coordinator for the city of Aspen, on Tuesday urged members of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors to attend the meeting if they want to show support. A special-event permit from the county is at stake.
"Right now, we're looking a lot of different options," Leslie said, declining to reveal any specifics.
Making Snowmass Village the headquarters for this year's local stop by the bike race is a coup for that community, but Aspen will benefit, as well, according to Bill Tomcich, president of local reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass.
With normal business, Aspen accommodations will be about 80 percent full for the weekend preceding the race. The remaining rooms will sell out, he predicted. Aspen won't lose business to Snowmass because it will be full, Tomcich said.
Snowmass Village will provide the 750 rooms required by the race on Sunday night and 565 rooms on Monday night. Lodging properties will be reimbursed for housekeeping costs by the local organizing committee for those "comp nights," but on the nights leading up to Sunday, Aug. 18, when many of the rooms in Snowmass will also be booked by individuals associated with the race, the average price will be $110 per bedroom, Tomcich said.
"When you add it all up, it's a quarter-million dollars for Snowmass Village," he said.
In all, less than 40 percent of Snowmass' overall lodging base will be devoted to the race contingent, Tomcich said, and the value of hosting the racers and their entourages, even with compensation only for housekeeping on two nights, was not lost on the Snowmass lodging community.
"It was one of the easiest pitches I've ever made," Tomcich said.
In 2011, the inaugural year of the bike race, Aspen hosted the Pro Challenge contingent on the last Tuesday in August. Without the event, it would have been the single quietest night of that summer season in Aspen in terms of lodging occupancy, according to Tomcich.
"That Tuesday night went from the quietest night of the summer to one of the top 10 busiest nights for the city of Aspen," he told the ACRA board. A sellout on a summer weeknight, though a share of the rooms were devoted to the race at little or no cost, was unprecedented but for the Fourth of July, he said.
The bike race has been a boon to some sectors of the local economy, while some retailers have pointed out that they see a drop, not a spike, in sales when the Pro Challenge comes to town.
Leslie told the ACRA board she welcomes ideas to make it a win-win for everyone.
"What do we do to help drive business into your stores?" she asked the chamber board. "Anything we can do to help you, we want to do because this has to be a success for us all."
Several chamber directors said the exposure the bike race brings to Aspen and Snowmass is priceless. It is televised worldwide and 340,000 hours of bike race footage was viewed by spectators on their computers last year, Leslie reported.
"To me, that's the picture we need to keep in mind, not what happens here in those two days," said builder John Olson, a board member.
"Anytime you can get Aspen on TV, it's a good thing," agreed Donnie Lee, general manager of The Gant and chairman of the ACRA board.