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Of paddlers and peddlers

Shane Macomber/Daily file photoVolkswagen has long been a sponsor of the Teva Mountain Games. It lets attendees test-drive cars at the festival.
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VAIL ” The “Zest Mud Village,” a.k.a. Golden Peak, will host the “Zest Foam Party.” The “Zest for Adventure Photography Competition” will test the mettle of shutterbugs, and the “The Everest Awards presented by Zest” will fete some hard-core adventurers.

They are all sponsored by Procter and Gamble’s Zest brand soap, perhaps best known for its “zestfully clean” jingle.

Marketers are ubiquitous at the annual Teva Mountain Games, where companies sell cars, kayaks, wine and, of course, Teva shoes.

That’s not a bad thing, said Brad Ludden, a local kayaker who has competed in the Teva games since their inception.

“They just bring more eyes to what we’re doing,” he said.

Zest may not be the first brand you associate with kayakers, trail runners or rock climbers. But organizers say the sponsorships of brands like Zest and Carhartt signal the games’ move into the mainstream and potential for growth.

“The lifestyle aspects of mountain sports are becoming much more attractive for mainstream brands,” said Joel Heath, whose company, Untraditional Marketing, organizes the games.

With little money coming from athlete registration and other sources, sponsorships are what makes the event happen, Heath said. Sponsorships also paid for a syndication deal that will air the games on either ABC, NBC or CBS across the country.

“The majority of the money that comes into our coffers is invested into the event so we can get bigger,” he said.

In fact, sponsorships are central to Heath’s plan to grow the games into a multi-city tour.

“Unless I sell the dream, it’s not happening,” he said.

Mountain games organizers target 21- to 45-year-old “weekend warriors” with household incomes of $90,000 or more. That’s a coveted demographic for advertisers, Heath said.

“We’re definitely in a sweet spot now for a lot of brands,” he said.

Despite all the marketing talk, organizers say they’re careful to make sure the event, born in the mid-’90s as the Champion International Whitewater Series in Minturn, stays true to its humble roots.

“Our authenticity is dead on,” Heath said

The current incarnation of the festival was created by marketers. In 2002, Teva, which traditionally made sandals, wanted to promote its new running and hiking shoes.

Adam Druckman, a marketing executive with Teva, brainstormed with Heath to come up with the idea of the turning the event, then a whitewater festival, into the “mountain games.”

The games have promoted Teva’s products well, Druckman said.

There is a concern that all the product-peddling will alienate the pro kayakers and climbers, Druckman said.

After all, the “sports” have grass roots and were born away from the spotlights of prize money and sponsorships.

“That is a constant worry,” Druckman said. “That’s why we try to do our best to create an atmosphere that is really accommodating to those ‘core’ people.”

Ludden knows kayakers who don’t come to the Teva games because they don’t want the spotlight that comes with such a big event.

“A lot of people feel it’s bad for the sport to have this kind of attention and growth,” he said. “Same with people in the X Games, a lot othe big names, because that’s not what they want to do.”

Ludden and many others, though, crave the attention ” and the prize money. Ludden called the Teva games a premier event for kayakers.

“This is really the biggest opportunity to make money and make publicity,” he said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.


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