Aspen looks to next bike race, wants talk on camping |

Aspen looks to next bike race, wants talk on camping

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Jim Ryan special to The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Resort officials believe the town has positioned itself well for the return of the USA Pro Challenge next year, and at least some are hoping the U.S. Forest Service will reconsider the ban it put in place this year on Independence Pass camping.

Last week’s second running of the bike race, which brought a stage finish and a start to Aspen, was on the minds of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors when they gathered for their monthly meeting Tuesday.

Board members who commented on the event offered universal praise, and Mayor Mick Ireland said a conversation with a race organizer led him to believe that Aspen will be among the host cities again next year.

Among the city’s goals, he said, was making it “impossible for the race organizers to conceive of the race without Aspen.” Ireland said he believes the resort was successful in that regard.

“My expectation is they were very pleased with Aspen as a host city,” said Bill Tomcich, president of reservation agency Stay Aspen Snowmass.

However, board member John Olson, a local builder, urged resort officials to approach the Forest Service about the camping ban on the upper reaches of the pass, where this year’s crowd did not match the throngs that watched racers climb Independence Pass during last year’s Queen Stage – a route that took riders over both Cottonwood and Independence passes and down into Aspen.

While the vast majority of spectators on the pass for last year’s inaugural Pro Challenge did not camp on the pass the night before the Queen Stage came through, the decision may have affected this year’s crowd, Olson theorized.

“I think that had an impact of some sort,” he said.

Ireland, too, said he’d like to see the city and Forest Service have a talk about the camping ban and what can be accommodated on the upper reaches of the pass next year, assuming the 12,095-foot pass figures into one or more of next year’s race stages. The mayor said he’d like to see the ability to camp on the pass reinstated, calling the mountaintop experience an important part of the event, not unlike what takes place in the mountains during the Tour de France.

Last year, the Colorado Department of Transportation announced that it would allow roadside camping along Highway 82 over the pass during the bike race, but this year, local Forest Service officials banned the practice for a 10-mile stretch at and near the summit, citing concerns about impacts to the fragile tundra.

“I want to know what the science says,” Ireland said after the meeting. “You wouldn’t want to have camping there every night, but could you have it one night?”

Contacted Tuesday, Ranger Scott Snelson of the Forest Service’s Aspen-Sopris Ranger District said he’s open to further discussion of the issue.

“The resources at risk are going to be the same for next year,” he said. “The likelihood that we’d make a change is not great, but you know, I’m open to hear the ideas.”

In town, organizers said they believed this year’s crowd was larger than last year’s, and local lodging was a virtual sellout on the night of Aug. 22. Visitors spending the night could watch the finish of the Queen Stage in Aspen and the start of Stage 4 the following morning.

The Sky Hotel saw a group holding a block of rooms cancel just days before the race and resold them within hours, according to Corey Enloe, general manager.

Jeff Bay, general manager at the Molly Gibson Lodge and Hotel Aspen, said they, too, had no trouble reselling rooms when a large group dropped some of its reservations.

“And we probably could have sold them again,” he said. “If we could have built two tent hotels somehow, I think could have filled those, too.”

The Little Nell saw its business increase throughout the bike-race week, said John Speers, general manager of the luxury hotel.

“As someone who sells guest rooms, I couldn’t care less about campsites,” he said.

The city is conducting a survey to evaluate the impact of the bike race on businesses, but Olson complained that the questionnaire doesn’t get at a key consideration – whether business owners see a cumulative benefit to hosting the race even if it doesn’t bring them more business on race day.

“I’m so pro this event, I can’t tell you,” Olson said.

“The bike race will probably never be a big day for my business,” agreed retail representative Kenny Smith, owner of Meridian Jewelers. “I don’t have a problem not having a huge day that day because I know it’s great for Aspen.”

A consideration for Aspen and any potential host city moving forward is what they’re expected to provide in order to host the race. This year, the resort was asked to provide some 700 lodging accommodations to the event, as well as a dinner and breakfast for 330 people. Four restaurants were involved in preparing the meals, served in two separate hotel conference spaces.

“There were quite a number of us who were anxious about whether we were going to be able to pull it off,” Tomcich said.

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