EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - For the past 15 years, the first weekend in October has seen local athletic fields alive with young soccer players. This year, thousands of young players and their families have again descended upon the Vail Valley.
The Vail Cup youth soccer tournament is the primary fund-raiser for the Vail Valley Soccer Club. Money raised goes primarily toward scholarships for young players. The tournament also in some ways marks the end of the warm-weather event season.
This year's tournament has 104 teams, ranging in age from kids 11 and under to 16 and under - competing on just about every soccer field from East Vail to Edwards. But Miller Ranch in Edwards is the real hub of the tournament - mostly because of the number of fields available.
The tournament has become wildly popular over the years. Shannon Moller, one of the event organizers, said about 20 teams had to be turned away this year, so the tournament could comply with Colorado Youth Soccer regulations.
The quality of the tournament is one reason for the event's popularity. But, Moller said, the tournament also gives families a chance to have a weekend in the mountains during the fall color season.
"It's just a great weekend," Moller said. "We've partnered with Vail Resorts on some great deals to get people here."
Nearly three dozen other sponsors offer tournament families on everything from sweat socks to smoothies, and the Avon Recreation Center has a deal for families who might want to hit the pool after a day of play on the fields.
It takes a lot of months and many, many more hours to pull the tournament together. Moller said she and the other organizers - Jodi Teague, Toni McCabe and Lisa Connolley - started work in April. Beyond that core group, putting on the tournament requires hundreds of volunteers. Then there are the 80 or so referees, who officiate the games in return for lodging.
By the time it's all over, the organizers are ready for, at least, a nice, long nap.
"But we love it - it's exciting stuff," Moller said.
People at local hotels love the tournament, too.
"We love having them ... they bring business to the area we wouldn't have otherwise," said Kim Newbury of the Inn and Suites at Riverwalk. That 73-room hotel is nearly full this weekend, and would be full up if not for the fact that some teams that reserved rooms had to be cut from the final tournament roster.
The Antlers Lodge in Vail is also nearly full this weekend.
"That's huge for the first weekend of October," Antlers general manager Rob LeVine said, adding that perhaps half of those rooms have been booked by tournament families.
But beyond this weekend, the Antlers' reservation book is pretty bare, because the events of summer and early fall have all but ended.
Going deeper into October with outdoor events runs the risk of bad weather, something LeVine said may be more perception than reality.
"I think October (weather) is more reliable than May," he said. Still, there's the fear of a sudden snowstorm. Soccer players will take the pitch in just about any conditions but lighting, but not everyone wants to play if there's snow, rain or mud.
"I think we could push (events) into October," Newbury said. "But it takes a more concerted effort. We need a more coordinated effort between the communities."
For now, though, this weekend's tournament is the valley's best booking weekend until late November.
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.