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Council wants some tweaks and safety measures to Big Air on Elk

Staying at Third and Elk for the time being

by Mark Reaman

The Big Air on Elk event will remain on Elk Avenue for the time being, but there will be additional safety measures implemented. The Crested Butte Town Council held a work session reviewing the event on Monday, May 18.

The consensus is that the event is getting more and more congested and is leading to safety issues. Councilman Jim Schmidt had floated the idea of perhaps moving the spectacle to Sixth and Elk, but council’s response was tepid.

The town staff outlined some suggested improvements to the event, including requiring a longer preparation time, with an application to be in hand before this coming December for the 2016 event. They want to see more security personnel to manage the crowds and keep people off nearby roofs. More “Jersey barriers” will be required between the crowd and the snowmobiles hauling the skiers and boarders toward the jump at Third and Elk.

“The staff is recommending that an outside safety manager be brought in,” said town manager Todd Crossett. “We think we need to increase the run-out zones and make sure the snow machines slow down when they are not pulling skiers. The council also has to look at the town contribution. The in-kind contribution is about $15,000 and it takes a toll on the guys who this past year were working hard because of a storm cycle right before Big Air. It got to the point where sleep was more important than overtime. Plus the town has made a cash contribution in the past. That’s all up to the council.”

Chief marshal Tom Martin said one thing that might help the event is lighting the alleys in the area. That would open up some pedestrian flow in a safer manner.

“The event is organically growing and we want to keep it moving forward,” said event organizer Corey Tibjlas. “I would be opposed to a change in venue. Having it downtown is the appeal. It’s interaction with the community and the business establishments. The event area makes it attractive.”

“There would be more elbow room at the Four-way,” said Schmidt. “The people viewing it would be more comfortable. The other complaint I’ve heard is why is it in March? It used to be in January.”

“It comes down to attendance and sponsorship dollars,” responded Tibjlas. “We need every advantage we can get. I don’t think Big Air really brings a lot of new people to town but it provides a heck of a show.”

“The location is awesome,” said councilman Chris Ladoulis. “People want to watch because it is a packed scene. The danger element is a bit of a draw. Would it work on another day of the week?”

Tibjlas said a Friday night could work as well as Saturday.

“The location is unique and cool and resonates with a lot of people,” added councilmember Skip Berkshire. “But we really need good planning to pull off a safe event. The wrinkles need to get ironed out. We absolutely need to get an earlier submission for the permit.”

Councilman Roland Mason said he took his kids to the event this year and as the crowd grew, there was a major choke point at Third and Elk that would have presented a safety danger if something had happened. “People couldn’t move at all,” he said. “We need to create ways to allow for people traffic to move.”

Town attorney John Belkin re-emphasized the idea of an outside safety manager being hired to evaluate the event. “That is probably the most important thing,” he said.

Crossett said he would look into that. Schmidt asked the staff to evaluate the impact from a financial standpoint as well. “It’s an amenity for sure but probably doesn’t draw a lot of people. How much money should the town continue to contribute? We should understand the return on investment,” he said.

The council insisted on getting a plan submitted by November or December.

“Then we need to enforce that and stand behind it as a council,” said councilman Glenn Michel.

Tibjlas indicated he would have an application to the town in November.

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