America’s Winter Opening slated to grow

EAGLE COUNTY — For years now, the ski-season calendar has had Opening Day, but doesn’t really catch fire until mid- to late December. The Vail Valley Foundation believes it can kick-start the season a couple of weeks earlier.

The Foundation is the organizing body for the annual Birds of Prey men’s ski races at Beaver Creek in early December. People at the Foundation believe they can parlay that event into a bigger deal by adding more to the program.

This year marks the debut of almost a week of activity called America’s Winter Opening. EverBank is the title sponsor for the broader events, while Audi remains the title sponsor for the Birds of Prey races.

The idea is to make the first weeks of the season something new to celebrate.

“The right event, with the right audience at the right time of year can really drive occupancy.”Chris RomerCEO, Vail Valley Partnership

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To that end, Beaver Creek will host concerts, as well as other entertainment and activities to go along with the races. And, while the races last only a few days, America’s Winter Opening will happen throughout the course of the week.

While a full schedule hasn’t been set, Vail Valley Foundation Director of Public Relations and Communications Tom Boyd said the activities will build on 2015’s Birds of Prey Way, where there was tea kettle curling, live music and other events.

“We think there’s an opportunity,” Boyd said, adding that the winter opening can be a kickoff to the winter season across the Rockies.

While America’s Winter Opening will be only at Beaver Creek this year, the idea is to spread the events across the valley.

Boyd said the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships can serve as a kind of model for America’s Winter Opening, albeit on a smaller scale.

“All the entities involved in that look back and say, ‘Wow, that was incredibly successful — what can we do to keep that alive?’” Boyd said.

2015 as a model

The model for the 2015 events had the racing at Beaver Creek, with social activities in Vail and Avon.

Foundation officials made a tentative effort to bring some winter opening events to Vail this year, but pulled back in the past week. A request for town of Vail funding was greeted with some skepticism by town officials, although much of that skepticism came because the proposal fell outside the schedule of the Vail Commission on Special Events, which reviews and approves event funding requests.

While Vail is out of the mix for this year, Boyd wrote in an email that Foundation officials and sponsors still intend to broaden the scope of the winter opening activities.

That means a lot of ideas are still being considered, from culinary events to adding a beer tasting to the possibility of a dog fashion show. Another possibility is rolling Vail’s Snow Daze events into America’s Winter Opening. For now, though, those will remain separate events.

All those ideas will require time, talk and, of course, partners and sponsors. Boyd said Foundation officials will talk to all those parties, from Vail Resorts to towns to companies willing to underwrite activities.

The idea, Boyd said, is to “put our best foot forward at the beginning of every ski season.”

But there are obstacles, from both tradition and the calendar.

At the Vail Town Council’s July 5 meeting, council member Greg Moffet said one of the biggest obstacles is that children will be in school in early December. That will create a tough sell for those families, he said.

On the other hand, the Burton U.S. Open Snowboard Championships hit Vail in early March, when most schools aren’t yet on their spring breaks.

GoPro as a guide?

And Boyd pointed to the growth of the GoPro Mountain Games as a way to build the popularity of an event.

But can hosting a big party in early December bring the desired results of more guests in the valley?

“It’s an opportunity time,” Vail Valley Partnership CEO Chris Romer said. The partnership has a booking division, and tracks lodging occupancy. Romer said Snow Daze has a record of increasing occupancy. The impact of Snow Daze is relatively easy to track because it’s generally on different weekends every year.

If, at some point, Snow Daze and America’s Winter Opening become one thing, Romer said the potential exists for still more heads in beds.

“The right event, with the right audience at the right time of year can really drive occupancy,” Romer said, pointing to events from the Vail Lacrosse Shootout to an annual youth soccer tournament in early fall.

And, Romer said, giving an event time to grow — which Boyd said the Foundation is committed to — is an advantage the Vail Valley has over competing resorts.

Romer said the Foundation is able to take a long view of events and activities, and has a record of being able to grow existing events.

“They can take something that’s successful, like the Mountain Games, put their stamp on it and make it that much better,” Romer said. “This could be good for everybody.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, and @scottnmiller.

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