GoPro Mountain Games popular and growing | VailDaily.com

GoPro Mountain Games popular and growing

Whisky flies through the air in hot pursuit of a toy thrown by his owner, Courtney Adams, during the DockDogs event at the GoPro Mountain Games in June. This year's Mountain Games set new records for both spectator attendance and guest spending.

EAGLE COUNTY — The GoPro Mountain Games have become a Vail tradition over the past 14 years. This year's festival of boating, cycling, climbing and other human-powered activities was a record-setter.

According to a report released this week by the Vail Valley Foundation, which runs the event, attendance for the 2015 Mountain Games, held June 4-8, set a new record. More than 62,000 people attended the games — the first time spectator numbers topped the 60,000 mark. Those visitors brought their wallets, too. The survey reports an economic impact of $4.87 million to the town of Vail. That's also a new record.

The event has been run by the Vail Valley Foundation with GoPro as the title sponsor for the past three years, and the growth seen over those years is no accident.

Duncan Horner, the Vail Valley Foundation's vice president of marketing, was quick to credit the association with GoPro as a big reason for the growth of the event. The small digital video cameras are nearly ubiquitous just about anywhere there's action. That action, in turn, ends up posted to YouTube and a number of other social media channels. That means more people than ever are watching videos of kayaking, biking, slacklining and disc golf.

Another factor in the growth of the games is the involvement of the Vail Valley Foundation, which runs educational, entertainment and sports programs ranging from after-school soccer to World Cup skiing.

The combination of those two factors — and the Vail Valley Foundation's deep well of volunteers — has created some formidable event chemistry.

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ATTRACTING NEW VISITORS

For the past few years, the event has been held primarily in Vail. Concentrate athletics, music and art in one easy-to-navigate location and it becomes even easier to draw big crowds.

"It's one of those events that's now appealing to multi-generation families," said Kelli McDonald, the town of Vail economic development director. "You can attend all four days and see something different every day."

GoPro has also tapped a group of visitors that Vail values: new guests.

According to a report created by Intercept Insight, a local survey firm, 38 percent of visitors reported that they don't otherwise visit Vail in the summer and 43 percent said they don't visit in the winter.

That's an opportunity for the town, McDonald said.

"Getting (those guests) to come back is the (Vail Local) Marketing District's job," McDonald said. "We want to make them loyal guests."

THE EVOLUTION OF THE GAMES

Part of the continued attraction of the Mountain Games is its evolution and the regular addition of new events. And, Horner said, it's looking more likely that parts of the games may have to be held elsewhere.

"We're reaching a stage where we're starting to burst at the seams a little bit," Horner said. "We're talking about where we can expand to, whether that's Lionshead, other parts of Vail or elsewhere. There are a lot of conversations on the table."

A part of those conversations involve the prospect of a winter version of the games. One winter games was held in 2012, but it was put on hiatus by the Vail Valley Foundation, which at the time was putting much of its organizational strength into the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.

At the moment, it's too soon to tell whether the winter games will be revived, Horner said. There are a lot of interesting ideas being talked about, he added, but none have yet reached the point of public discussion.

"What we do know is that (the Mountain Games) is not just going to be what we know now," Horner said.

What will stay the same is the open nature of the events. Horner said one of the attractions of the Mountain Games is the "pros and Joes" nature of many of the events, in which newcomers to an event are often rubbing elbows with experts in those fields.

Another constant is the "human-powered" nature of the Mountain Games, which means while — to use a couple of extreme examples — unicycle juggling may be considered in the future, dirt bike polo will not.

And while sponsors and organizers talk often about what may be the next growing activity, time — and participants — will ultimately determine what events are featured in the future.

One event that's been something of a surprise is the rise of disc golf.

"There's a lot more technical knowledge today. … People take it very seriously," Horner said.

That's part of the excitement of the games' evolution.

"This event has been hugely successful and has a bright future," Vail Valley Foundation spokesman Tom Boyd said. "It's very exciting."

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

by the numbers

62,000: Spectators at the June 4-8 events.

$4.87 million: Economic impact in the town of Vail.

210: Event volunteers.

240: Media members covering events.