VAIL — March in Vail is a little like the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day — the mountain, hotels and restaurants are bustling. That bustle will be boosted this year by one of the world’s biggest snowboard events, and business owners can’t wait.
The Burton U.S. Open Snowboard Championships is in Vail for the second year next week. Last year’s event, held more toward the end of February, drew larger, more enthusiastic crowds than expected, but in a relatively soft spot in the resort calendar — after President’s Day and right before the big spring break crowds of March arrived.
Because of the Winter Olympics, this year’s event is a week later on the calendar, just as the first of the March crowds start to hit the valley.
Matt Morgan, co-owner of a couple of Vail restaurants, said those businesses can’t gear up much more than they already have.
“We’re at full throttle, anyway,” Morgan said.
Near the Covered Bridge, Buzz’s Boards owner Buzz Schleper said his shop is also running at full tilt in March. But both said Burton is a welcome addition to the town’s scene, particularly for the exposure.
Exposure Is Exposure
“Every event we get is good for Vail,” Schleper said. “Any large event gives Vail that much more exposure, and it looks like we enjoy hosting big events.”
The exposure from Burton may not be quite to the level as the exposure Aspen gets from for the Winter X Games. Burton’s U.S. TV deal is with NBC, and many events will be on the NBC Sports Network. Aspen gets exposure through ESPN, which has a more-established presence on cable and satellite TV systems.
But Burton’s international exposure may be greater. James Deighan, of Highline Sports & Entertainment, the Vail-based company producing the event, said next week’s competition will be on TV in about 160 countries.
But exposure is exposure, and that’s a good thing.
Morgan said the fact that Burton is in Vail while the town is in its stretch run to the end of the season is still fine.
“You can’t really measure return on investment when the event’s in town,” Morgan said.
The benefits may come later, as people return. In a way, it’s like the USA Pro Challenge cycling tour of the state, Morgan added, in that the impacts of the event go beyond the number of people in town for those few days.
The fact that the town is already full isn’t all that important, Morgan said.
“If you never put your hand up, you run the risk you’ll lose visibility,” he said.
At The Sebastian hotel in Vail Village, general manager Lance Thompson added that Aspen is usually full, or nearly so, for the X Games, and that community has worked to lock up a long-term deal to keep the events there.
“It would be a mistake not to do the same here,” Thompson said.
Burton is now in the second of a five-year deal to have the U.S. Open in Vail, Deighan said, adding, “The plan is to keep it here a long, long time. It’s the biggest snowboarding event in the biggest winter sports resort.”
While people in Vail say they want a long-term relationship with Burton, town officials are trying to find a way to help make the event successful.
The town of Vail for the past two years has contributed about $400,000 in cash and services to the event. That isn’t unusual — Vail has a sizable budget for special event funding. But the past two years of Burton funding has come from town reserve funds. That’s led to some debate at Town Hall.
Council member Margaret Rogers has questioned the amount of spending on Burton, wondering if the quantity of money spent is worth the additional “heads in beds” the event brings.
Mayor Andy Daly has a different view. Daly said the exposure is worth the town’s money, but he said that money can’t continue to come from reserve funds.
“That’s appropriate for one-time events,” Daly said, citing the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships as an example. “The question going forward (with Burton) is that it needs to come out of regular operating funds.”
Those discussions for 2015 and beyond will start in July, Daly said. But, he added, Burton has been a great addition to the town’s scene.
“It really appeals to people who might not be our target audience now, but may be in the future,” Daly said. “That does have value.”