Todd Hartley: A real 24 Hour challenge | AspenTimes.com
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Todd Hartley: A real 24 Hour challenge

Todd Hartley

And so, with barely a whimper, another venerable local tradition bites the dust.

The Aspen Skiing Company announced on Wednesday that it was canceling the 24 Hours of Aspen, skiing’s premier endurance race, for lack of a title sponsor.

The announcement comes just six weeks before the race was to have been run because the Skico tried until the last minute to fill the void left when Audi, last year’s sponsor, pulled out.

Alas, the Skico failed in its attempt, and the 24 Hours of Aspen was shelved, at least for this year. That means that a big event that drew crowds to Aspen for an otherwise moribund December weekend will be drawing nobody to town, leaving a gaping hole in both the economic and social calendars.

The sad thing is that, with past racers such as Katie McBride-Puckett, Chris Davenport, Katie Fry, Megan Harvey, Tyler Williams, Anda Rojs and Fletcher Yaw, the 24 Hours has always been a big favorite of locals. Thus, the demise of the race is sure to elicit outcries from the town’s populace.

Doubtless, someone will cite this as further evidence of Aspen’s decreasing vitality. Like the Double Diamond, the Mother Lode and countless other local restaurants, taverns and traditions, the 24 Hours just couldn’t survive in a town where prices keep skyrocketing even as visitor numbers and vibrancy slide.

The culprits, most locals believe, are the greedy landlords whose outrageous lease rates force out the little guys who want to run a bar or store with some character and charm. This has left Aspen with little in the downtown core save for some upscale handbag shops and a bunch of real estate sales offices.

Needless to say, that doesn’t exactly make for the kind of town where businesses, including, apparently, Audi, want to sponsor events, leading to the cancellation of the 24 Hours (and possibly the 2004-05 women’s World Cup races).

So here’s my proposal: Since the real estate offices seem to be making so much money that they can afford outrageous rents and help keep prices high enough to drive out all the stores that real people might actually want to frequent, perhaps the Aspen Board of Realtors should step to the plate and sponsor the 24 Hours of Aspen.

I’m sure the real estate and development interests in this town do wonderful things for local charities, many of which were the beneficiaries of money raised by the 24 Hours. I myself couldn’t single out anything that the real estate and development interests do for charity, but I can’t believe that they are as greedy and self-serving as they appear on the surface.

To the naked eye, the local real estate community just saddles town with things we don’t want, like sales offices on the downtown malls and monster spec homes. Sponsoring the 24 Hours would be a very public way of giving back to the community that has helped to make local realtors rich.

And I can’t be the only one who thinks that it would be a marketing coup for the real estate community to take over the race and wine and dine some VIPs and potential homeowners for the occasion.

Real estate in this town is aimed squarely at the richest 1 percent of the population, which also happens to be the demographic that Audi was targeting by sponsoring the 24 Hours in the first place. One former sponsor of the event was Gulfstream, the private-jet manufacturer, and if you don’t know whom their marketing was directed at, you obviously don’t know what kind of people buy their own airplanes.

Of course, this is probably a moot point. It’s likely too late to save the 24 Hours for this year. But if we run into the same problem next year, it sure would be nice to see local developers and realtors pony up the cash and sponsor the race. It would be a good marketing strategy and a good way of showing Aspen that they care about more than just fattening their own wallets.

And I can promise this much: It would go a long, long way toward dispelling the animosity that many locals, this one included, harbor against the real estate interests in town.

Todd Hartley, a 15-time runner-up in the 24 minutes of Highland Bowl, writes this column on Fridays in The Aspen Times. E-mail at todd@aspentimes.com


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