Copper plans to host X Games-like event
COPPER MOUNTAIN – Twelve-year-old Tate Berry was not likely to beg his father to take him to Aspen Mountain until the area known for furs, caviar and Hollywood star sightings became host to the Winter X Games. Now, after several years of X Games coverage on ESPN, Aspen is on Berry’s radar and he wants to go there.The same phenomenon could happen in Summit County when Copper Mountain hosts the Gravity Games in March, according to Tate’s father, Michael Berry. Berry, who is president of the National Ski Areas Association, noted that North America’s skier numbers remained flat for a decade until the baby boom generation’s offspring took to the slopes. Numbers hovered around 52 million through the 1990s but the last four years averaged 57 million skier days. The growth is mainly occurring in the 72 million-strong Gen-Y demographic – also known as the echo boom. The group includes those born after 1985. Sixty percent of them taking up winter sports are riding snowboards, according to research by the National Ski Areas Association. “Youth-focused events are important because they are a definitive investment in the future,” Berry said. “These kids aren’t going to be 12 and 15 forever.”While parents might choose a ski area for its size, speedy lifts or groomed runs, Berry said today’s families make vacation decisions together, and kids are likely to suggest something different, something cool.”They don’t want to drive their father’s Buick,” Berry said.It’s the same attitude that made rock ‘n’ roll.”You know how kids don’t want to do what their parents do,” said snowboarder Andrew Lee, who rides 170 days a year and works at Copper. “Their parents aren’t skiing backwards and riding twin-tip skis. “It’s like music: They want to rebel a little bit and do their own thing.”Their own thing, somewhat ironically, means emulating their sports role models, and that’s where pipes and parks make the draw to a certain hill like Copper. “It’s not unthinkable to be that pro snowboarder,” said Christine Sperber, a former Burton Snowboards rep who was hired by Copper for the event. “Media exposure drives recognition – kids can ride that same park they saw on TV.”When the Gravity Games hits Copper March 3-6, it could do much for Copper’s image among the young generation that’s looking for something fresh.The event will draw America’s top action sports athletes, bring thousands of spectators to the slopes, hundreds of media personnel to Summit County and result in hours of national television exposure.”It’s gonna be a good thing overall for the resort and help bring people to Summit County,” Lee said. “Hopefully it will put Copper on the map and help them improve the nightlife.”Aspen’s Winter X Games success is not expected in Summit County – at least not this year – but if Copper gets half the crowd, “this mountain will be flooded,” Lee said.The winter version of the Gravity Games was produced only once at Mammoth Mountain, Calif., in 2000 under NBC ownership, when the network reported several of the highest-rated action sports telecasts in its history.Outdoor Life Network (OLN), the leader in action sports television that reaches 61 million households on cable television, purchased the event from NBC in January. OLN continued the Summer Gravity Games, producing the third one in Cleveland in September. When OLN aired 17 hours of coverage from that event, the network boosted its ratings among men aged 18-34 by 150 percent compared to the prior year.Network executives had not finalized an on-air schedule for the Copper Mountain event. They do, however, plan to televise it March 27-30.The exposure value will be immeasurable for Copper’s marketing team, according to Rob Perlman, president of Colorado Ski Country USA, who was vice president of marketing at Mammoth Mountain when the Winter Gravity Games were held in California four years ago.”It gave us six hours of coverage on NBC Sports during a great time of the season – a reach we couldn’t possibly afford on our own,” Perlman said.Aspen Skiing Co. executives report the same benefits from the Winter X Games.”We not only get the exposure from the initial crowds … we get huge worldwide exposure from broadcasts and re-broadcasts, plus the photo shoots and film shoots give us additional exposure in publications and ski and snowboard films,” said Jeff Haule, communications manager for the Aspen Skiing Co.It took several years for Aspen to fully embrace the Winter X Games, but a multiyear ESPN contract signed this spring set the stage for continued economic impacts. The event at Buttermilk Mountain in Pitkin County is set this season for Jan. 29 through Feb. 1.Lodging facilities were packed in and around Aspen in January for the event – up 27 percent over the previous year, according to Aspen town finance director Paul Mentor. Sales tax revenues were up 19 percent, and Mentor attributed half that increase to the X Games.The parade of event producers, media professionals and set-up crews that arrives several weeks before contribute as much to the local economy as the thousands of spectators that attend, Mentor said.While attendees – generally the T-shirt-wearing, pizza-eating crowd – don’t spend like traditional Aspen tourists, Aspen’s director of community relations, Linda Gerdenich, said businesses on the whole seemed pleased with January’s economic results.Between 5,000 and 10,000 spectators per day are expected at Copper during the Winter Gravity Games. Copper Mountain Freeride Team member Clair Bidez hopes to compete in the halfpipe event. She expects the competition to be similar to the X Games.The caliber of athletes will draw crowds out, Bidez said.”A lot of the best riders will be out there,” she said. “It’s nerve-racking but also lots of fun to watch.”Similar to Aspen, lodging at Copper is expected to be booked with event producers, so there will be opportunities to “share the wealth” with the rest of the community, said Copper marketing manager Ben Friedland. Qualifying criteria for athlete competition, winner purse amounts and entertainment headliners are still to be decided. Copper executives are working with community leaders to establish a transportation and parking plan for the four-day event.A rail jam, street concert and other possible nighttime events are being planned for Frisco’s Main Street.”In Aspen, you see the whole community come together for this to happen,” Friedland said.Lee, who noted that Copper and Frisco joined hands recently to fund the Main Street information center, hopes the same friendliness will transpire for the Gravity Games.”It can be as much a Frisco thing as a Copper thing,” he said. “Frisco shouldn’t overlook it.”
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