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Race events keep Aspen competitive

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Courtesy Susan JacksonThe annual America's Uphill race Saturday on Aspen Mountain drew 237 people competitors.
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ASPEN ” Skier numbers are down. Retail sales are sinking. The real estate market has come to a near stand still. But amidst all the doom and gloom is one area where Aspen’s economy remains steady, if not growing: athletic races.

From January’s Owl Creek Chase to this past weekend’s America’s Uphill, it appears participation is up in local sporting events.

In fact, the success of the Owl Creek Chase has led city staffers to ask for an increased marketing budget for three of its other locally based athletic events ” the Aspen Downtown Criterium, the Aspen Triathlon and the Gold Leaf Half-Marathon.

The goal, according to Nancy Lesley, director of special events and marketing for the city of Aspen, is to pull more people into town from places like the Front Range for both the events, and a weekend in Aspen.

“This is the future ” people rolling something they want to do, like a race, into a vacation weekend,” she said. “And Aspen is the perfect place to do both, we think. We’ve always thought this, but now we’re really trying to get that message out.”

On Saturday, 237 people marched up Aspen Mountain in the annual America’s Uphill. That figure eclipsed last year’s participation by 39 race finishers, and is almost equal to 2006’s tally of 236 finishers.

“I don’t think the economy is affecting these events too much ” they’re much cheaper than going out to dinner,” said Paul Perley, general manager of the Ute Mountaineer, which helps organize the 2.5-mile trek up Ajax. The entry fee for America’s Uphill was $30 in advance.

Perley did admit, however, that the economy has affected some sides of the race business.

“One thing that seems to be more difficult is getting good prizes from retail suppliers, although local businesses have been incredibly generous,” he said.

David Hamilton, executive director of Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, said his organization’s Town to Town Tour saw a similar trend.

The first running of the tour, which has nordic skiers going from Aspen to Basalt on the Rio Grande Trail, saw 316 paid participants. In this, its second year, 320 people joined in. There also were another 50 or so volunteers each year, Hamilton added.

“We had anticipated a more significant increase of 425 to 450 for year two, but without a longer event history it would be hard to directly attribute this result solely to the economy,” Hamilton said, adding that RFOV faced similar challenges in garnering corporate support. The price tag for the tour, which was a benefit for RFOV, was $25 in advance.

And perhaps the most telling event was January’s Owl Creek Chase, a nordic ski race along the Owl Creek Trail. In 2001, some 85 people participated in the race. This year, there were 800 participants ” a ten-fold increase in just eight years.

Lesley believes the increased participation has much to do with beefed up marketing efforts on the Front Range and by race organizers partnering with college and high school nordic teams, as well as nordic clubs.

“This event has seen a tremendous leap in participation,” Lesley said. “What we’re hoping is that by similarly marketing our other events, we will see similar increases in participation.

“We think people are traveling shorter distances to do the things they want to do ” and sporting events are things people want to do, even in a down economy, because they’re relatively in expensive and make you feel good ” so we’re really trying to hop on that train. And we really think our summer events is where we can see some real growth.”

Thus, city staffers have requested an additional $50,000 to boost marketing for three upcoming events ” the Aspen Downtown Criterium, a cycling race held in the streets of downtown Aspen in May; the Aspen Triathlon in August; and the Golden Leaf trail running race in the fall.

A memo from Lesley to the Aspen City Council estimates that the expanded events, as well as three new nonathletic events, could generate an additional $281,000 in taxable revenue for local businesses.

At a work session in early March, Aspen City Council members were in favor of the budget increase. A final decision is expected in the coming months.

jmcgovern@aspentimes.com


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