Vail Shootout’s success surprises its founders
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Back in 1977, Vail had open athletic fields and plenty of empty hotel rooms. If a fledgling tournament for an obscure sport wanted to come for a few summer days, it would be more than welcome.
Fast-forward to this year, and the Vail Lacrosse Shootout has become a summer juggernaut, bringing thousands of players, family members, friends and fans to Vail for nine days of stick-and-ball action that fills fields between Vail and Edwards. The tournament started Saturday, right after a youth event had run its course, and, combined with numerous other events over a couple of weekends, filled the valley’s hotels to just about mid-winter levels.
The tournament today has about 120 teams, many coming from the East Coast, Texas, California and Canada, something co-founder Flip Naumburg couldn’t have imagined when he and three friends decided to hold a little lacrosse get-together at Wagner Park in Aspen in the summer of 1973. That first tournament had just four teams, made up mostly of guys who had played in high school and college.
By 1977, the tournament had worn out its welcome in Aspen, and by 1978, the tournament moved all its games to Vail. Those first tournaments lasted just a weekend each. There weren’t enough teams to stretch the action any more than that.
“But it didn’t take long until teams found us,” Naumburg said.
And, as people on the East Coast started moving west, they started bringing their love of lacrosse with them.
As interest in the sport grew over the years, the shootout grew, too. As time passed, the tournament became too big for just a weekend, then too big for Vail. And, as the tournament founders got older, then invented new age divisions, so they wouldn’t have to compete with the kids in, or just out of, college.
Naumburg, 58, doesn’t play any more, since he walks around on one surgically-replaced knee these days. But there’s a division for players in their 50s, and two teams of guys in their 60s will play one game – and then, presumably, hit the jacuzzi and the golf course.
While there are plenty of clubs and leagues these days, Naumburg said quite a few of the older players just play in the shootout these days.
But the younger players are coming on strong.
“We’ll have one of our largest elite divisions this year – 22 teams,” Naumburg said.
Those teams will include players from teams that participated in this spring’s national college championship tournament, Naumburg said. And the Canadian team is packed with the country’s best players, all competing to honor the team’s former goalie, now battling cancer.
That level of competition, has organizers expecting somewhere between 11,000 and 12,000 spectators for the nine-day tournament. By the time all the numbers are counted, the event could bring somewhere between 16,000 and 18,000 people to the valley for at least some of the event.
Those numbers make the Shootout the foundation of a busy couple of weekends. A separate youth lacrosse tournament arrived in the valley the week before the Shootout hit town, but the weekend the grownups came was also the weekend of the Tough Mudder obstacle race at Beaver Creek, which had 9,000 people registered for the two-day event. There was also the Vail Farmers Market a barbecue festival and art festival in Vail and Eagle Flight days.
“Room availability is pretty tight right now,” Vail Valley Partnership Executive Director Chris Romer said.
Andy Guy, co-owner of the Gashouse restaurant in Edwards, said late last week that his place had seen the crowds already, mostly from the youth tournament.
“The down-valley is much more impacted by the youth tournament than the adult one,” Guy said. “But for the valley in general, the summer is starting off fantastic.”
Event-packed stretches like this one have a way of building on each other, Romer said.
“Lacrosse players and trail runners might be interested in each other’s events,” Romer said. “And it all helps create a brand of who we are – a destination for outdoor pursuits.”
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Are we seeing more bears because there are more bears on the valley floor, or because we’re all spending more time at home? It could be a bit of both.