TA update: Budget is growing and busy summer is expected

Trails, TGR connection, Outerbike, dead dogs and more

By Mark Reaman

The Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association (TA) has been busy and its efforts are contributing to more people choosing the area as a vacation destination. The organization’s budget has grown to more than $2 million and its focus on marketing trails around the county appears to be paying dividends.

“We’ve been focusing on stuff where we have a distinct and important advantage in markets that are big. We’ve focused more on fly fishing and the Blue Mesa than the ‘old’ TA, but we’re still mostly about trails,” agreed TA executive director John Norton. “We focus on alpine, Nordic and fat bike trails in the winter and mountain biking and hiking trails in the summer.”

The TA has been hopping in to support local events and try to create new events that boost local business. Norton said the Outerbike event, slated for late August this year, is a huge gathering of bike manufacturers and mountain bike-related companies. It attracts serious riders from around the world who want to demo the new models and various brands as well as just rub shoulders with kindred spirits.

“Outerbike already has 70 reservations and it doesn’t happen until the third week of August. But we kick off with the Growler, simply an amazing Memorial Day event down at Hartman’s,” said Norton.

“Yeti is bringing their Tribe Gathering here this summer, and that will bring hundreds of Yeti owners to town,” continued Norton. “There are now a number of mountain bike tour companies offering trips to the valley. We will also put major effort into launching the latest iteration of the map app CBG Trails, complete with a game called TrailQuest included. The Holy Grail of TrailQuest will be logging all 750-plus miles of valley riding. Details to follow!”

Norton admitted one historical summer mountain biking event is on the ropes. “We’ve got to figure out Crested Butte Bike Week with the Chamber and Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association [CBMBA]. Other than the Chainless Race it’s a dead dog on the side of the road.”

“Junior Crested Butte Bike Week is showing a lot of promise, though. When we were in Moab for Spring Outerbike, there were so many kids there!” Norton continued. “Grade school and high school mountain bike racing is a real thing now. Western [State Colorado University] has success running summer football camps. What about the valley hosting kids’ camps for mountain biking? Western already has a high school mountain bike camp. Is it something we can build on?”

Budget grows to $2.4 million

The 2017 TA budget has expanded to $2.4 million. Of that, the money is roughly split 50/50 to market the summer and winter seasons. And Norton said Gunnison county tax money is funding only about 70 percent of that $2.4 million.

“Mt. Crested Butte has returned as a big funder and the Town Council there has been great to work with. Also the state, the Crested Butte Chamber, the RTA and even a partnership with Alaska Airlines all come into play,” said Norton.

The first year of a new Central Reservation (or Rez) system for the valley lodges was started with $75,000 in TA money. This year the TA will likely contribute more. Norton said the TA has been targeting millennials, and he noted that millennials don’t like picking up the phone to buy something. “At the moment, we’re getting ready to do a deep dive into Central Rez and its future,” Norton said.

A new six-figure, two-year contract with Teton Gravity Research (TGR) will help get the word out about the valley’s amenities as well. “We, along with Jackson Hole and Switzerland, are their major travel partners,” said Norton. “They filmed here several weeks ago and will film here next ski season for our inclusion into their movie for 2018/2019. They will film their first mountain bike test here this summer. There’s a whole lot more with electronic and social media, but those are the big hits. TGR is just a perfect fit for us, and we for them. One hundred percent of their audience skis. Ninety percent of their audience mountain bikes. And 80 percent of their audience fly fishes! We will push content to them, and they will push it out over their network.”

The TA is also working with and helping fund the new Mountain Manners program and the CBMBA Conservation Corps, both of which have been formed to help manage backcountry impacts. And the TA contributes funding to both the Crested Butte and the Gunnison Visitors Centers to the tune of about $25,000 each per year.

Successes and challenges

Overall, Norton said things are going well. There have been some big successes and some challenges.

“The focus on trails has really paid off,” he explained. “It even pays off in eliminating wasted time. For example, Travel & Leisure and USA Today called this week to sell some ad space. I didn’t even have to think to refuse the offers. We don’t do generic and boring mountain town advertising. We don’t do images of cute couples clinking wine glasses! There was a piece in Outside last fall that described the valley as the best place in the country to mountain bike. Our trails here aren’t that much better than they were a couple of years ago but we weren’t getting that kind of recognition before. Last summer, the Wall Street Journal called Crested Butte and Gunnison the mountain biking base camp of the Rockies. The New York Times talked about the Fat Bike Worlds. I love that stuff!

“What we haven’t figured out is the Blue Mesa,” Norton continued. “It is the biggest body of water in the state. A beautiful place. A National Recreation Area. Two years ago, we started distributing coupons for free annual boat registrations in the Front Range. Thousands of coupons. In two years, we’ve had one redemption. Last year we started a SUP [Stand Up Paddleboard] Beach Bash. It was great fun but lightly attended. This year we’re doing it again and we’ve got great partners working with us, like Tito’s Vodka and Orion Coolers. Also we have a great partner in the National Park Service, who administers the Mesa. The NPS couldn’t be better to work with. The Beach Bash will be bigger this year, but it’s fair to say, at least for now, we haven’t figured out how to sell the big and beautiful and very special Blue Mesa.”

The TA measures its success on occupancies of local hotels and how increases in lodging compare to the 18 ski-valley locations comparative set. The TA uses data from Destimetrics, a company that tracks occupancies in the ski areas. “Both last summer and winter we killed it. This summer our reservations are off to a very fast start. It’s almost too good to be believed,” Norton said.

Believe it: This summer looks to be busy in both Crested Butte and Gunnison.

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