State of the State: Winter sports

The FIS Alpine World Ski Championships rank among the most celebrated winter sporting events on the planet, beckoning Olympic-caliber racing talent from more than 70 countries. This winter — Feb. 2-15, to be exact — marks the first in 15 years the event returns stateside. (Plus, it’s worth noting that all four U.S. appearances — first in Aspen in 1950 and again in 1989, 1999, and now 2015 in the Vail Valley — will have been in Colorado.)

A 2010 study directed by the University of Denver identified the value of “internationalizing Vail,” and proposed drawing the Winter Olympics or the World Championships back to the Valley to achieve this goal.

“What we’re looking for as a result of this sort of event is raising the profile of the Colorado ski industry as a whole,” said Al White, director of the Colorado Tourism Office. “It really draws the attention of ski enthusiasts around the world to Colorado.”

The budget for this year’s showing hovered at $59 million, an amount that’s “pretty small in comparison to other, similar events,” according to Ceil Folz, president of the Vail Valley Foundation and 2015 Organizing Committee.

Roughly $50 million of the budget remains in Colorado, Folz said, explaining that when and if possible, spending is kept close to home. She pointed to Colorado-based businesses such as construction company Condit and event signage creator EPS Doublet, both headquartered in Denver, and involved in making the event possible.

Beaver Creek will serve as the primary racing venue — with the Birds of Prey men’s course and new women’s Raptor race course — while the town of Vail will host a variety of festivities, including opening ceremonies, medal ceremonies, concerts, film screenings, art exhibits and more. Stadium seating is free to the public.

Kevin O’Donnell, CEO of Avon-based Beck Building Co., has been stationed in the Valley for more than a decade and a half. He said the popularity of competitive skiing spectatorship has increased over the past 15 years, since the last U.S. stop for the FIS Championships.

White attributes that uptick to technology enabling fans to more easily follow events and athletes.

According to the economic impact estimate for the 2015 championships, the Vail Valley’s “economy is still struggling.” The report states further: “We all depend on the maintenance and growth of the sport of skiing. We look to utilize the 2015 World Championships not only as a celebration of the sport, but as a springboard for marketing exposure to entice new peoples and populations into the sport of skiing.”

“With the World Championships, we don’t look at this like an event that in and of itself drives business to our door,” said O’Donnell. “We take a long view. We want to keep Vail in the center-of-mind as a world-class destination, that keeps people coming and interested. This type of event plays to the stature of the resort … earning the right to host this event proves we’ve achieved that status.”

During the competition, 98 percent of Vail and Beaver Creek mountains will remain open to recreational skiers.

According to Folz, “The economic impact of those two weeks is [estimated to] hover around $110 million to $120 million. And that’s great. That’s $100 million more than we had. But the bigger play is long-term — a year after the championships. In 1999 we jumped from 3 percent of guests coming internationally to 12 percent coming to the Valley. We know we’ll have close to a billion people who see these races worldwide, and that’s our money shot. That’s why we put a lot of money into TV, because we want to show the world a thing they want to come to.”

Traditional and new media initiatives surrounding the event are anticipated to produce 2.5 billion impressions for an estimated market value of roughly $650 million.

“I think we’re at this really interesting place in skiing. The state is filled with ski resorts and it’s a huge piece of the economy,” Folz said. “Now it’s our job to get the next generation to embrace skiing the way the current generation does.”

$67 Billion: Annual contribution of snow-based recreation to the national economy,  according to environmental protection group Protect Our Winters (POW).

Blast from the past: ECONOMIC RESULTS FROM 1989 CHAMPIONSHIPS:

Direct Retail Sales: 

+ During Event: $28.35 million

+ Preceding/Following Event: $15.35 million

+ Denver Portal: $2.1 million

+ Additional VVF Expenditures: $8.9 million

Total Direct Retail Sales: $54.7 million

Taxes

+ Sales Tax: $1.3 million

+ Tourism Tax: $40,000

+ Gasoline Tax: $170,000

Total Taxes to Colorado: $1.45 million

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