Lacrosse tournament blows into midvalley with big economic impact
The Aspen Shootout lacrosse tournament blew some wind into the midvalley economic sails this weekend during what would usually be a much calmer time.
The tournament attracted 90 teams with roughly 1,800 participants from kindergarten through eighth grade to Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel, according to Meredith Elwell, a director with Aspen Lacrosse, the host and organizer of the tournament.
Family and friends coming to watch the event boost total numbers to around 3,000, she said.
That’s a lot of hungry mouths to feed with lunches, dinners or snacks.
“I think it’s a significant bump for business downvalley,” Elwell said.
The tournament outgrew available space in Aspen so it moved to Crown Mountain’s vast fields in 2012. Midvalley business quickly learned to expect the hordes for a weekend each May. Waves of youngsters rolled into Sure Thing Burger on Saturday starting in late morning.
“It’s show time. It really is,” said Sure Thing owner Scott Picard. “In a little valley on a Tuesday night, you’re guessing how much business you’re going to have. On lacrosse weekend, there’s no guessing. They’re coming.”
Sure Thing opens early both Saturday and Sunday of the tournament weekend and brings on extra staff. Preparation means bringing in extra burger from the local ranch, extra buns from the local baker and veggies from the supplier.
“We believe that Sure Thing Burger is ground zero for any event with kids in the valley, period,” Picard said.
He said he always wants customer service to be top notch. It’s particularly important during lacrosse time because so many people are here from out of town.
Elwell said teams are coming from throughout the Western Slope and Front Range. The farthest a team traveled is from Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Regina Stout of Grand Junction made the trip to watch her son’s team play for the fourth consecutive year. The wind created issues Saturday, shredding some shade structures, otherwise the tournament ran smoothly.
“It just all depends on the weather,” she said.
Her group of parents typically stays in a hotel in Glenwood Springs on Friday and Saturday nights of the tournament, but they wanted to avoid construction impacts this year. They opted for the Days Inn in Carbondale.
She said at least six teams were at Crown Mountain from Grand Junction. Her group has bumped into other Grand Valley residents out and about in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Several parents coordinated cooking and brought lunch, with pulled pork and mac-n-cheese on the menu, for Saturday. But they typically go out for lunch at least one day, often to Downvalley Tavern in El Jebel.
A group of 11 went to White House Pizza on Saturday night, Stout said. They also run to El Jebel City Market for snacks.
“And, of course, as far as economic impact, we go to the liquor store,” Stout said with a laugh.
The grocery stores have learned to anticipate a nice bump in business during the lacrosse tourney.
“It’s like a mad storm,” said Aaron McCallister, assistant store team leader at Whole Foods Market in Willits Town Center.
The first year caught the Whole Foods staff and other business off guard, he said. Now they’ve learned to beef up for the weekend.
Parents typically want something quick between their children’s games, he noted. Since parking is at such a premium at Crown Mountain, many people seek lunch and snacks within walking distance of the park, he said.
Drew Scott, owner of Downvalley Tavern, said the event provides a nice boost at a time when business is a littler slower. Many local customers are on vacation after ski season.
Local restaurants were set up at Crown Mountain, as well. New York Pizza and Smoke were among the four restaurants with booths.
Basalt hotels also reap the rewards. Basalt Mountain Inn was 100 percent full Saturday night because of the lacrosse tournament, according to manager Zach Fisher.
“Saturday was good for us and really good for lodging overall,” he said.
He’s able to handle the influx with little trouble. “A little extra ice cream scooping,” he said, explaining that the hotel offers free ice cream in the lobby.
Sally Alward, general manager of Element Hotel in Willits, said the property was almost sold out Friday and was full Saturday, thanks to the tournament.
Crown Mountain is ideal for a large event because it can accommodate so many teams at one venue, said Becky Wagner, park director. There were eight fields in use from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. until titles were crowned Sunday.
Like lacrosse overall, the popularity of the Aspen Shootout is surging. Participation soared from close to 80 teams last year to 90 this year.
“This is one of the biggest tournaments in the state,” Wagner said.
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International visitors have traditionally accounted for 10 to 20 percent of Aspen Skiing Co.’s skier visits in recent past seasons. Travel fears and restrictions tied to the coronavirus are expected to wipe out most of that market for 2020-21.