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State, U.S. Ski group, resorts team up to bring action sports to Utah

Published: Friday, July 20 2012 10:24 p.m. MDT

Jen Hudak, left, a 3-time X Games champion and a 2-time World Championship medalist in halfpipe skiing, attends a press conference announcing that the USSA and Utah Sports Commission will bring five World Cup and Sprint U.S. Grand prix Events to Utah's Canyons resort, Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain resort at the Capitol on Friday, July 20, 2012. With Hudak is Faye Gulini, a snowboardcross athlete, and Emily Cook, aerials athlete.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — What no single Utah ski resort or sports organization can do alone, they hope to be able to do together.

In a news conference at the Utah Capitol on Friday, Gov. Gary Herbert joined with officials from U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, the Utah Sports Commission and three Park City area ski resorts to announce that they would be teaming up to create a series of winter sporting events that will keep Utah at the forefront of the quickly evolving action sports world.

The announcement comes a few months after the state lost its deal to host the summer and winter Dew Tour stops, both of which had been among the most well-attended and successful stops on the action sports tour.

"A lot of these major sporting events, there's a lot of competition to get them," said Jeff Robbins, president and CEO of the Utah Sports Commission. "Even though (most of the events involved in the new series) are here, it doesn't mean with the one-year commitments that we've traditionally had, that they might not go somewhere else."

In April, Robbins estimated the state was losing an aggregate of about $80 million when the Dew Tour left Utah. What officials don't want to see is another community steal other marquee winter events currently being hosted — or those being developed as new sports, nearly all in the action sports genre, are added to the Olympic Games. This deal is expected to bring about $15 million in economic impact and $5 million in media value to the state.

"The difference this year is … we've really made an effort to bring this together," said Calum Clark, USSA vice president of events. "It's more than just one sport, one weekend, or two sports on one weekend, and we are bringing a range of sports in the winter action genre. They're a range of sports and they're the best athletes in the world."

So rather than individual resorts trying to hold onto the events they've hosted, now the Sports Commission and U.S. Ski officials will join the fight to keep these events in Utah — and hopefully expand them in the future.

The series is made up of five winter events in the next two years. They'll occur at Deer Valley (aerials), Park City Mountain Resort (halfpipe snowboard and ski) and Canyons (snowboard cross and ski cross). It also includes the announcement of the U.S. Free Ski Team, which will be the first of it's kind as the IOC just added the sport to the Games last year.

"One of the unique things about this announcement … is this series now becomes part of the World Cup," said USSA President and CEO Bill Marolt. "Which means that we fall under the umbrella of the international ski federation. It enhances the value and image of what we're doing. Clearly we'll continue to bring outstanding stars from around the globe to continue to compete in these events and I think with the package we've put together, the promotional package with NBC, it's a win-win for all of us."

When ski resorts and political leaders tried to envision the kind of legacy the 2002 Winter Olympics would leave, they didn't see action sports as the key.

But very quickly, an array of sports that was created and pioneered by the athletes themselves became the heart and soul of Utah's Olympic legacy.

It has also become a critical component to what the IOC is attempting to do as both officials and sponsors realize that younger fans want more action sports in the Olympic family.

Utah's image as an action sports player grew internationally when the state became home to one of the most popular stops on the Dew Tour - and Utah was the only place where both a summer and winter event were held.

So when Dew Tour officials changed their format and decided to move the main winter event to Colorado, the loss to Utah wasn't insignificant.

But Friday's announcement will help the state capitalize on the image it now owns after hosting the Dew Tour successfully.

"It allows us to continue to be a leader in actions sports," said Robbins. "Important to the state for a number of reasons. It's an example of all of the great legacy work that's been done. Action sports when we began our legacy years ago really weren't the center, by any means."

Action sports, however, have been the fastest growing sports in the Winter Olympics, and official at every level now realize their importance in sustaining the Olympic movement.

Utah established itself not just as a place for traditional winter sports, but also for emerging events like free skiing, which will be included in the Games for the first time in 2014. Part of the new agreement is that the U..S. Free Ski Team that will compete in 2014 will be named in Utah.

"I think we have the chance here in Utah, to become the home of free skiing," Robbins said. "(The IOC) is interested in emerging sports because they need to tap into a younger demographic."

The partnership maybe be most meaningful to the athletes who hope to wear that U.S. Olympic uniform in 2014.

The agreement not only provides them with World Cup competitions in the U.S., but it also gives them invaluable exposure and support, which is critical to qualifying for the games.

Jen Hudak, a free skier who competes in ski halfpipe and is a three times X Games champion, said it's the publicity and the support that will make the most difference.

"I think the important part on the free ski side, of this partnership, is to say hey (to fans), 'There is no reason you guys shouldn't come up. It's the same caliber athletes; the same quality of halfpipe if not better."

And resorts officials said the support will encourage them to be committed to hosting events that cost them thousands but also expose the world to Utah's outdoor resources.

"The partnership, the multi-year nature of the deal, definitely makes this more attractive to us," said Todd Burnette, vice president of marketing for Canyons Resort. "It makes us want to continue this relationship as long as we can keep it going."

email: adonaldson@desnews.com

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