Vail-based Highline Sports & Entertainment has ‘gone dormant,’ now working on new ventures
Events company has furloughed staff, is now working to provide COVID-19 testing, services
Highline Sports & Entertainment, a staple of the local events scene for 26 years, is another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the pandemic may have opened the door to a new venture.
Highline co-founder James Deighan said Friday that company has “gone dormant” on the events side, and has furloughed the entire staff.
“It’s been a rough, rough, rough deal,” Deighan said, adding that the last big event the company did was this year’s Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships in Vail. That event was five months ago, and aside from a truncated version of Vail America Days this year, the company’s calendar is empty into 2021.
While Vail has always been home, Highline has produced, or helped with, events around the world, including events for the U.S. Ski Team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The company was also involved in the Super Bowl LII halftime show.
The company started when Deighan, Jeff Braush and Scott McCormick started producing Mogul Mania events around the High Country. The company was able to land Red Bull as a sponsor, that firm’s first foray into action sports.
The company branched out into freeskiing events, and helped create the Mountain Dew Vertical Challenge.
Moving to music
The company in the late 1990s branched into concert promotion with a Big Head Todd and the Monsters concert in Vail Village. No one was sure what would happen, Deighan recalled. But the band regularly sold out shows at Red Rocks Amphitheater.
The Vail show attracted the same level of interest. The Village was packed, from Gore Creek Drive past the Gorsuch store.
The concert business developed in some unusual ways.
Deighan said Vail Resorts executives came to Highline and asked for something similar to a popular mid-mountain concert in Europe. People had to buy a lift ticket to attend.
But Vail Resorts decided a free concert was a better fit for Vail, Deighan recalled. That’s when Spring Back to Vail was born. Other resorts soon adopted their own spring festivals, many produced by Highline.
Spring Back led to Vail Snow Days, an event that also became a model for other resorts.
Highline “kind of revolutionized large shows in the winter,” Vail Economic Development Coordinator Mia Vlaar said.
Vlaar recalled that when former Vail Town Manager Greg Clifton first came to Vail, he asked, “There’s a concert? Outside? In the winter?”
“It’s a pretty awesome concept, and we want it to continue,” Vlaar said.
Vlaar added that Highline has “been one of the major partners of Vail for a very long time… they’re a treasured partner of the town.”
Vail Town Councilmember Jenn Bruno said Highline’s dormancy is a “sad loss to our business community … They’ve done an amazing job over the last decade of bringing incredible events.”
Avon Town Councilmember Jake Wolf paused a minute when he heard the news, sighed, then said Highline’s loss “Is going to leave a pretty big hole in the community.”
Wolf is a working musician, and he’s played in groups that have opened for several headliners brought to the valley. Wolf said he’s had “tremendous positive experiences with them” over a number of years.
While the events portion of Highline is shut down for now, Deighan is trying to take the company in a new direction, with Highline Medical Solutions.
That company is working with companies to provide quick testing and results, personal protective equipment and other services.
Deighan said he’s working on the business development side of those ventures. He’s working with the state of Oregon, the Jefferson County School District and other large organizations.
Deighan said he expects the need for testing, equipment and services will remain even after there’s a vaccine for COVID-19.
Success in that venture might allow Deighan to bring back some people on a contract basis. That could allow Highline Sports & Entertainment to start more quickly when the time is right.
And Deighan had nothing but praise for his crew. That crew often worked long days, sometimes 24 hours at a stretch, he said.
“They loved their work and took pride in their work,” he added.
Vail Mayor Dave Chapin said that love, and especially the company’s love for Vail, showed in the work they did.
“I know (Deighan) took particular pride in events he did for Vail,” Chapin said.
The loss of Highline is going to be a loss for the community, Chapin added.
“Hopefully someday he can rekindle his company and we can renew our partnership,” Chapin said.
For now, though, it’s time for Highline to pivot and, perhaps, survive.
“We’re trying to use our expertise in staffing, logistics and budget management to deploy in other worlds,” Deighan said. “We’re just trying to reinvent ourselves.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com.