Vail’s Mountain Games post large gains
September 6, 2013
By the numbers
53,579: Estimated attendance for the June 6 — 9 GoPro Mountain Games.
5,391: Estimated room nights booked for the event.
$4.7 million: Estimated spending by those attending the games.
7: TV outlets that featured video of at least a portion of the games.
Source: Vail Valley Foundation
VAIL — After more than a decade, the GoPro Mountain Games seems to have hit a new level of success.
The games, held June 6-9 in Vail, drew more than 53,000 spectators this year, an increase of more than 20 percent. There was also a corresponding increase in the estimated spending from those spectators. Those are huge gains. But finding the roots of those gains is complicated.
Mike Imhof, senior vice president of sales and operations for the Vail Valley Foundation, which runs the GoPro games, said there were a number of factors in play this year. The weather was great for the games, and this year's runoff was much better than in 2012, making for better boating. There were new events, too.
The result was better crowds during GoPro's first days.
"We had a massive jump on Friday — it was packed earlier in the morning until after the concert that night," Imhof said.
There's also the matter of marketing. Imhof said the Foundation started marketing earlier this year. Having GoPro as the games' title sponsor helped, too. That brand of action camera is well-known, especially by those who want to put their latest kayak adventure, mountain bike run or climbing-wall escapade on social media.
"GoPro had a lot to do with (the games' success)," Kelli McDonald, Vail economic development director, said. "I think they leaned into (marketing) a bit more and reached a broader audience."
Another factor is the Vail Valley Foundation itself. The local group runs events ranging from concerts at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater and Vilar Performing Arts Center to youth programs and World Cup ski racing.
"They really know what they're doing," Vail Valley Partnership President Chris Romer said.
Aside from GoPro, other events in Vail this year have all been growing. McDonald said several other events in Vail have seen big jumps in attendance this summer.
The King of the Mountain volleyball tournament more than doubled in participation and spectators this year, McDonald said. So did Pink Vail and Vail Rocks, both fundraisers for cancer awareness and the Shaw Regional Cancer Center.
Numbers aren't yet available for Labor Day events, of course, but McDonald said there were apparently bigger crowds in town for events over the holiday, as well as the Vail Jazz Festival.
The Vail Farmers' Market continues to grow, McDonald said, and Keen's Kids Adventure Race in Vail hit its participation limits this year.
On the other hand, McDonald said, mountain resorts all over Colorado have had successful summers, and Front Range residents this year accounted for an even larger share of visitors. Fears that the Colorado Department of Transportation's "Twin Tunnels" highway project near Idaho Springs would hurt summer tourism seem to have been unfounded, she said.
But what other events might be poised for big growth in the next few years?
Romer said the kids' race could be an event poised for even more growth in coming years. With its combination of attracting families and people who want to participate in "adventure" activities, the Keen event "is the real sweet spot" for the Vail brand, Romer said. Beaver Creek will kick off a fall music event this year that also has the potential to be an "iconic" event for that resort, he said.
At the Foundation, Imhof said there could be another pair of highly successful events when the World Cup ski racing tour comes to Beaver Creek. The Birds of Prey men's events have always been popular, but women are also coming this year, to test out the new race courses for the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships.
McDonald said the Burton U.S. Open Snowboard Championships — set for March — has the potential to be another big-time event.
"This will be (the snowboarding tour's) first stop after the Olympics," McDonald said. "There should be a lot of excitement."