Can Outlier festival build Vail’s cycling status?
VAIL — In a town well known for the breadth and popularity of its festivals, it can be hard for new events to earn their place on the calendar. This year’s inaugural Outlier Offroad Festival is trying to do just that.
On the surface, it seems Outlier has the needed ingredients for success. The promoter, Mike McCormack, has a solid track record of successes with cycling festivals, including the Epic races in Breckenridge. The chosen weekend — this weekend — has a good chance of providing fine weather and glorious scenery just about every year. And there’s a deep reservoir of cycling enthusiasm in the Vail Valley and around the state.
So prospects are good.
But that’s no guarantee Outlier will catch on.
“Sometimes we have events that we get excited about that miss the mark for whatever reason,” Vail Valley Partnership CEO Chris Romer said.
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The short-lived Diva half-marathon also seemed to follow a successful recipe, but ultimately fell flat, Romer said.
Other events can be a surprise. The annual kids adventure race in the valley has quickly become a must-do for local and visiting families.
The early indicators for Outlier seem positive. As of mid-week, the valley’s lodging properties in Vail, Avon and Beaver Creek were about 60 percent booked. That’s fairly normal for the weekend the past couple of years, Romer said (the Vail Valley Partnership is a reservation agency and tracks bookings). What will be interesting to see is if late-booking drive-up traffic boosts those numbers.
Given historic booking patterns, Romer said he expects the valley’s lodges will end up about 75 percent full for the weekend.
Mike Spaid, the director of sales at the Apex Holiday Inn Lodge in West Vail, said he expects “day-of” bookings to nearly fill that property this weekend. That’s what happened last weekend.
Spaid said he’ll be interested to see how many people come for the Outlier event, especially given that businesses are generally looking for more customers this time of year.
McCormack said the early registration numbers for Outlier show between 500 and 600 participants, a good number for an event in its first year.
Those several hundred participants likely represent only a portion of the number of people coming to Vail, given that participants often travel with friends and/or family.
That’s why Tara Picklo will have all-hands-on-deck staffing at the Yeti’s Grind coffee shop in Vail Village for the weekend.
“Right when the offseason has started creeping in, we’re back to (full staffing),” Picklo said. “I’m excited to see what happens.”
Picklo is an avid cyclist and said she’s looking forward to one of Outlier’s big attractions — the opportunity to sample new gear on the mountain.
“It’s a great opportunity to demo bikes and experience it going downhill,” Picklo said.
At the similar, but not lift-served Eagle Outside Festival earlier this year, Picklo said she test-rode perhaps five different bikes and said she was just about exhausted by the end of the day.
Picklo, the co-owner of the Yeti’s Grind shops in Eagle and Vail, said Outlier could be a good bookend cycling event to the Eagle event in May.
‘KEEP THE INTEREST UP’
At the Mountain Pedaler in Minturn, shop manager Andy Rossetto said he doesn’t expect a lot of new business from Outlier — most local bike shops still cater primarily to locals, he said. Still, he added, the festival presents some new opportunities for Vail.
“Having an event like (Outlier) is really good to keep the interest up,” Rossetto said. “More bike related events in Vail is a big, positive thing.”
Like Picklo, Rossetto said he’s excited to see how the gear demonstrations go over.
“A new bike is a big investment,” he said “People want to ride a lot of different options — that’s awesome for people.”
Hotels, restaurants and other businesses are likely to see some benefits from this weekend’s events. But, Rossetto said, the future opportunities are also enticing.
“I like the idea of trying out some new trails for races on Vail Mountain,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to get the word out there’s some pretty cool trails out there.”
McCormack said those long-term benefits are becoming apparent in Breckenridge with the July Firecracker race and the Epic event.
“With the Firecracker, as soon as the course is ridable, people are heading there to ride the course (for practice),” McCormack said. “And with Epic, a whole cottage industry has sprung up around the race. People fly in to participate.”