Events, and participation, may be our real future

“We can so do this!” said Amanda Miller last Saturday as we waited to start the Copper Triangle, a 78-mile bike ride through the mountains. We’d be riding from Copper Mountain resort up Fremont Pass and down to Leadville on Colorado 91, up U.S. 24 to Tennessee Pass, Battle Mountain and Minturn, then the long slog up Vail Pass and a quick descent to the after-race party. Four mountain passes, 6,000 feet in altitude gain.

Amanda, a former Business Journal colleague, had talked me into signing up for the event back in May. Training consisted of 15-mile rides up Gold Camp Road every morning before work, with longer rides during the weekends.

Would it be enough? I wasn’t sure. It couldn’t be any worse than the Pikes Peak Marathon — but I hadn’t done Pikes Peak since 1993. Thanks to John Crandall at Old Town Bike Shop, my bike had a new cassette, chain and derailleur. Yet maybe I was a delusional 72-year-old fool anyway, riding a 10-year-old aluminum bike with flat pedals.

If so, I wasn’t alone. More than 3,000 riders participated in this year’s Copper Triangle, a superbly organized jaunt through some of the most beautiful country in Colorado. Many, like Amanda and her friends, were in their 20s and 30s, confident young people who saw the ride as part of a great weekend in the mountains. Others were my age or even older, tough old birds ready for a challenge.

Our city’s bias toward “structure tourism” is sadly apparent. We seem to think that visitors are viewers, not doers.

Twenty years ago, summer events were an afterthought for many Colorado mountain communities. Summer in the high country was for hikers, campers, climbers and fishermen/women. Fall was for hunters, winter for skiers, and spring for mud. Only Aspen broke the mold, with its array of cultural offerings.

Other resorts and communities have since followed suit. Vail, Crested Butte and Copper Mountain came to understand that many summer visitors, like their counterparts in the winter, wanted to do things, not just look at things. They might want to do epic road rides, race mountain bikes or soak in a hot tub after a 12-mile hike — but not just gawk at the mountains and shop.

The Copper Triangle made its debut in 2005, the brainchild of adventurous cyclists who knew the route, then called the Leadville Loop. Given that the ride starts at 5:45 a.m. on Saturday, most participants turn it into a vacation weekend.

We were no exception. Amanda, her spouse Joe and a half-dozen of their friends rented a house for the weekend, while my wife Karen and I stayed in a condo a hundred yards from the start-finish line.

Never having actually visited Copper Mountain, I had supposed that it was an Interstate 70 drive-by, a bunch of 1980s condos clustered around a ski area. I couldn’t understand why my 34-year-old daughter liked it enough to consider buying there.

Now I do. And now I understand the power of participatory, event-driven tourism, which brought me to a place I never would have visited.

Considering the size and diversity of our city, we’re lagging behind. We have the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, the Warrior Games, the Rocky Mountain State Games and a plethora of strictly local events, but that’s about it. Sadly, our political establishment seems indifferent to new ones.

Remember last year’s proposal to create a Tour of Colorado Springs? It was billed as a moderately strenuous, organized ride, one that would have required closing streets and intersections as thousands of riders circled the city. Organizers were confident they could pull it off, based on successes elsewhere.

Mayor Steve Bach put the kibosh on it, citing liability issues that could potentially cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Maybe so, but how does Tucson manage to put on a similar event with 6,000 participants? How do the organizers of the Copper Triangle send out thousands of amateur riders on a 78-mile trek along public highways that remain open during the event?

We ought to find out. Judging from Copper’s event sponsors, it’s even a worthwhile advertising opportunity. Sponsors include Wells Fargo and Volkswagen. The name sponsor, Colorado Cyclist, is a web-based retailer of bike gear based in (drum roll, please) … Colorado Springs!

Our city’s bias toward “structure tourism” is sadly apparent. We seem to think that visitors are viewers, not doers. That may have been true 30 years ago, but not now — even for geezers.

Yeah, we finished in good time, slowed a bit by my crash and Amanda’s flat. Try it next year, and remember that Vail Pass waits for you at mile 57 — 14 miles, 3,000 feet of altitude gain in the afternoon sun.

You can so make it!

8 Responses to Events, and participation, may be our real future

  1. We’ve tried to bring cycling events to Colorado Springs as recently as this Spring with a City meeting at the Colorado Sp Visitor’s Bureau.

    No go on this one. Streets have to be closed and it takes money.

    Andy Bohlmann
    August 13, 2013 at 3:31 pm

  2. We’ve tried as recently as this past Spring to bring a cycling event to two that stays here.

    “City types” weren’t into it.

    Andy Bohlmann
    August 13, 2013 at 3:33 pm

  3. Mayor Bach screwed around the event organizer, Dave Whitaker, for over a year with that bicycle tour. Which is a huge success in Phoenix. Bach promised support publicly for event then took it away. Again, having majority of Council members who were pushing for that event, Steve Bach ignored our elected officials and said he wouldn’t allow police or road personnel, therefore squashing any opportunity. The City also blew off the opportunity to have a semi pro basketball team practice and play at the City auditorium which could have helped bring people downtown. Now the only thing that may get paid for in this City is an Olympic museum, Dick Celeste’s pet project, because of his very far outreach at the state level. God help Colorado Springs.

    Dale Heeven Jr.
    August 14, 2013 at 10:38 pm

  4. John, I would certainly add large conference events, like the Space Foundation’s annual Space Symposium, in this mix. Our event is the largest annual all-city convention, bringing significant business to 10 partner hotels, and putting 9,000 people through the meeting itself, at the Broadmoor. The local economic impact in one week is estimated at $25 million. Perhaps more importantly, over the 30 years of our conducting the event, we’ve brought space companies to Colorado Springs that have ended up staying and building a local space industry that is one of the city’s most important economic drivers. Around the world, Colorado Springs is known as one of the most important space cities on the planet. This type of professional event business is extremely good for Colorado Springs.

    Elliot Pulham
    August 15, 2013 at 11:30 am

  5. For those of us who sat in the meetings with Tour of Colorado Springs, we know why the event did not take place. And Dale, the event they were trying to duplicate is the Tour de Tuscon. The two event organizers have never put on an event of this scope, their goals for the event were largely inflated with no past history, they requested bid money as well as a large amount of city services comped, and they wanted to bring the tour through two military bases but had not received permission before meeting with us. The organizers not only met with the City but with local sports and destination experts with everyone in agreement they were not prepared to successfully pull off an event of this scope. They conducted these meetings only 8 months prior to their proposed event date – definitely not enough time to plan this event. All of us suggested they need 12-18 months in order to ensure all the requirements of this event are properly met.

    Jackie
    August 15, 2013 at 11:51 am

  6. Elliot – I completely agree. Space Symposium is definitely a significant event that year after year brings in the room nights and attendees spend money while they’re here. Also, the International Association of Fire Fighters is another key event that brings in trackable room nights and economic impact. The City actually questioned the value of this particular event because of the city services needed to shut down Tejon. Seriously, the appoximately 5,000 people that come in for this event are booking rooms, eating out and sight seeing. That’s measurable economic impact.

    Jackie
    August 15, 2013 at 1:52 pm

  7. Good points, Eliot and Jackie! I hope, though, that the tourm of Colorado springs can be revived – such events are amazingly popular around the state, to the extent that established events have to limit the number of riders. A well-organized annual tour de CS would probably bring 1,000 riders in year one, rising to 5,000 in year five. When you consider the millions that are doled out from LART to various organizations every year, a recurrent event sttracting a couple of thousand out-of-towners would merit funding.

    John Hazlehurst
    August 19, 2013 at 2:49 pm

  8. Timed Grand Fondo events have done very poorly in Colorado.

    What we don’t have here are a solid mass participation road ride and a serious road racing event. Both of which take money well beyond entry fees.

    Sponsorships must come from outside the cycling industry as they do so little, overall, to advance the sport.

    Andy Bohlmann
    August 20, 2013 at 8:37 am