Colorado Springs tourism brings to mind the usual attractions worthy of occupying the in-laws between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Sites like Seven Falls, Cave of the Winds, Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak make many a tourist’s list.
And while those landmarks are stunning for out-of-towners and locals alike, some people prefer their tourist attractions to be a bit more mobile.
As such, there are more than a few events in Colorado Springs that may be difficult to find, as a collective, in any other city.
Those events act as a draw for visitors across the state and around the world.
Gary Markle, board president of the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo, said the event brings in 30,000 spectators over a four-day period, beginning July 9. The 74-year-old rodeo creates a $4 million impact on the community, Markle said, adding it is one of a kind.
“If you ask the average person to list their favorite sports, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and the rodeo usually are not one of them,” Markle said. “But the diversity of events in the city gives us a tremendous reputation. We’re not necessarily a baseball, basketball or football community. … I would submit to you there are many large cities with NFL and NBA teams that have nothing like what we offer.
“We celebrate our assets, our mountains and our Western heritage with top professional events.”
Markle said the rodeo sells out each year and spectators travel from as far as Europe.
Of nearly 700 rodeos in the country, Markle added, Pikes Peak or Bust is consistently ranked in the top eight in the nation, making it one of the city’s premier events.
“Colorado Springs is a sports town,” Markle said. “Our events are as good as any community our size could be. In many respects, they are better than many may expect in a community our size.”
U.S. Grand Prix
For those who want to watch cyclists make circles, the U.S. Olympic Committee will play host for the first time to the U.S. Grand Prix cycling event July 11-12 at the Memorial Park Velodrome.
Janine DiSalvatore, associate director aquatics and venues for the USOC, said it isn’t often the committee hosts events, but previous organizer Summit Cycling discontinued its support, and the USOC saw the event as being of high importance to fans and athletes.
“This event was important to the athletes to earn qualifying points,” she said. “Those points allow them to attend world cups, where they get points to attend the Olympic and Paralympic games. We felt it was important to continue hosting.”
DiSalvatore said she foresees the USOC continuing to host the event in partnership with USA Cycling.
“Cycling is a vast sport where lots of people can partake in lots of disciplines,” DiSalvatore said. “Our hope is [the Grand Prix] will bring people from outside the city just like the [USA Pro Challenge]. In a way, this is more spectator-friendly because it’s in a venue and spectators can see the entire race. That’s a real unique aspect to cycling.”
DiSalvatore said anywhere from eight to 13 countries have been represented in the past, and next year there are plans for three Grand Prix events over four weeks.
“It will maximize the number of qualifying points racers can earn and it will increase the time international guests spend in the Springs,” she said. “Some will be here for an entire month. There’s limited housing at the training center, so there will be significant overflow to the city.”
Have games, will travel
Tom Osborne, president of the Colorado Springs Sports Corp., which owns and operates the Rocky Mountain State Games, said this year’s 42-sport celebration of motion is for weekend warriors and elite athletes alike.
“We have athletes 6 to 86,” Osborne said. “That’s the beauty of this. Take tennis for example. We have a novice division … up to an open division. So you’re competing against your own skill level.”
If tennis shows you no love, there are dozens of other sports from which to choose, ranging from archery to arm wrestling.
Osborne said the Games could attract as many as 10,000 athletes to the city July 18-20 and 25-27, and each athlete brings an average 1.8 people in support.
“This is one project we own the rights to,” Osborne said. “We created it, we raised sponsorship, we take the financial risk and we pay all the bills. It’s the Sports Corp. signature event and it’s about a $1 million project.”
The Sports Corp. covers expenses through registration fees, sponsorships, ticket sales, souvenirs and concessions, he said.
“By the time we pay staff and all expenses, if we can make $5,000 or $10,000, we’re happy,” he said.
Gold-medal winners can compete in the State Games of America at the national level, and Colorado Springs hosted the national event for three consecutive State Games of America, which take place every other year.
“When [Sports Corp] ran the State Games of America in 2005, 2007 and 2009, we paid a $50,000 bid fee to the national corporation. That was a total of $150,000 and the return to the community for all three years was $30 million,” Osborne said, citing an economic impact study performed by market researcher Bamberger & Associates.
“The National Congress of State Games board of directors thought this was an ideal spot,” Osborne said. “We couldn’t have done it without the support of the Air Force Academy. The venues that the Academy has were just ideal for the State Games of America. … We used [facilities at] Colorado College and UCCS. City Parks and Rec are phenomenal to work with. Colorado Springs is really set up for these types of events.”
Osborne said financial support from El Pomar Foundation, the Daniels Fund, AT&T and King Soopers have provided key sponsorships, maintaining “modest” entrance fees for athletes.
According to Osborne, the Rocky Mountain State Games were intended for Colorado residents, but over time, the event has begun to attract competitors from the entire Western region, adding this year will mark the first for lacrosse as an event, and that alone should draw more than 1,000 athletes, 90 percent of whom will come from outside of Colorado Springs.
Who needs roads?
It began 59 years ago as a competition between smokers and non-smokers, according to Ron Ilgen, president and director of the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon. Today, being based more than a mile above sea level provides its own little boost to the economy, as some competitors arrive weeks early to train and acclimate.
Ilgen said event entrants are limited by the U.S. Forest Service for safety reasons, with 1,800 spots available for the Ascent, which will take place Aug. 16, and 800 for the Marathon a day later. He added that 40 percent of participants and their guests are from outside Colorado Springs and that each participant brings 2.5 people in support.
Ilgen said the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon is a championship event for the World Mountain Running Association, and Pikes Peak is the only spot across the globe to have been a championship site not twice, but for the third time this year.
“That shows how popular Pikes Peak is internationally,” Ilgen said. “I call it the Mount Everest of marathons.”
The Pikes Peak Marathon is the nation’s second-oldest marathon — to the Boston Marathon — and it is the first marathon ever entered and completed by a woman. Arlene Pieper, at 29 years old, completed the task in 1959.
“The ascent and marathon really sets Colorado Springs apart as a trail and mountain running area. Some of the best in the world live and train here. … Serious marathoners know about this race. It’s rated in the top 10 in the world.”
We need roads!
The USA Pro Challenge makes its third appearance in Colorado Springs Aug. 21. The Stage IV, 16-mile circuit will be raced four times through Garden of the Gods, Mesa and Ridge roads, with grades near 17 percent. The next day, Stage V will begin in Woodland Park.
The Sports Corp. is the local organizing committee, teaming with the Pikes Peak Cycling Society to bring the race through town.
“This year, there will be a start and a finish in Colorado Springs, so they’ll stay two nights,” Osborne said. “[Sports Corp.] has a big responsibility to raise money for 710 room nights for Wednesday. On Thursday night U.S. Pro Cycling is paying. That’s 1,420 rooms just for the delegation of riders, drivers and support staff.”
According to statistics provided by the Sports Corp., the 2013 USA Pro Challenge created a $100 million economic impact statewide. It’s billed as the largest spectator sporting event in Colorado and one of the largest in North America, attracting more than a million fans. Nearly half of all attendees travel from more than 50 miles to the host city, and a combined 64 hours of television coverage was provided domestically and internationally in 177 countries.
“Colorado Springs looks at assets,” Osborne said of the city’s ability to host top-tier events. “The USOC is headquartered here with nearly 50 sports organizations. We put on a world-class volleyball event with eight international teams because [USA Volleyball] is an asset we have in our community.
“We may not have NFL or NBA teams, but we capitalize on the assets we have,” he continued. “That’s why we’re such a proponent of City for Champions. You give us more tools and we’ll bring more things to town and it will generate more of an economic impact. It’s a pretty simple formula.”
For balloon animals
If all the pedaling, running and busting have left you rather exhausted, what finer way to relax than lying in the grass under a late-summer sky, counting balloons?
Patsy Buchwald, president of the Colorado Balloon Classic said, if you are counting, expect 80 aircraft to launch Aug. 30 from Memorial Park. In its 38th year, Buchwald said there was a period where the Classic took a bit of a hit because of the economy, but pilots are finding their way back to Colorado Springs.
Buchwald said the Classic has been named as a top-100 special event in North America for 2014 by the American Bus Association, a travel industry trade association. She said tracking numbers to the Classic is difficult because they don’t sell tickets or have a gate, but an impact study performed by the city in 1998 still acts as a baseline. The event drew an additional $9.7 million to Colorado Springs based on sales tax figures over three days and four nights.
“We no longer track those numbers, but we know we have a positive impact on the economy,” Buchwald said. “We’re more focused on making this a safe, family event. We do this as a quality-of-life booster for the people in this region.”
Buchwald said the event is marketed through trade associations and balloon clubs, but there is plenty of free marketing as a result of the popularity of the event.
“We’re very fortunate that we’ve been featured in so many calendars and magazines because this event is so photogenic,” she said. “There are these majestic photos of balloons with the beautiful backdrop of Pikes Peak.”
Buchwald said, despite a drop in participants, the Colorado Springs launch is still the largest in the state.
“We didn’t grow the last three or four years, but we’re breaking records on passes to park at Memorial from out-of-towners now. I got a call from a singles group coming from Texas. They’re only going to overnight for the Balloon Classic. That’s their target.” nCSBJ
If you go …
Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Days
When: July 9-12
How: www.pikespeakorbust.org / 719-884-1199
U.S. Grand Prix
When: July 11-12
Rocky Mountain State Games
When: July 18-20 and 25-27
How: www.coloradospringssports.org / 719-634-7333
Pikes Peak Marathon
When: Aug. 15-17 [Expo and race weekend]
How: www.pikespeakmarathon.org / 719-473-2625
USA Pro Challenge
When: Aug. 18-24 [Colorado Springs Stage 4, Aug. 21; Woodland Park Stage 5, Aug. 22]
How: www.usaprocyclingchallenge.com / 1-888-223-3351
Colorado Balloon Classic
When: Aug. 30-Sept. 1
How: www.balloonclassic.com / 719-471-7303