New York Times
By Wina Sturgeon
Those who watched the AST Dew Tour action sports stop here last fall on television probably noticed the same slogan on every start ramp and barrier wall: Utah, the State of Sport.
It was a symbol nearly seven years in the making.
Through their experience in planning for and hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics, officials in Utah discovered that sports featuring individuals - particularly those involving daring feats - were a potential gold mine. Utah has worked since the Salt Lake Games to become a hub for action sports and other contests, an effort that continues during the recession.
"We're seeing some sponsors put in a little less funding than they have in the past, but we haven't seen any sponsors pull out," said Jeff Robbins, the president of the Utah Sports Commission, an organization of business leaders and government officials who promote the sports industry.
The commission created the State of Sport logo, which Robbins credited with helping Utah build momentum after the Winter Games.
An example was the four-day stop of the Dew Tour, now an annual event in Salt Lake City that features the world's top athletes in skateboarding, BMX and freestyle motocross events. Robbins said it generated an economic impact of more than $13 million and set attendance records.
In July, the 2008 Junior Olympic Volleyball Championship attracted about 7,000 participants and roughly 35,000 visitors to Sandy, Utah.
"It had an economic impact of about $30 million," Robbins said.
Whether tourists travel to watch or to participate, Utah wants them. Tourism brings in an average of $6 billion, a figure that has increased every year, Robbins said. Much of the money spent to promote the state comes from privately organized efforts like Ski Utah, which promotes skiing and snowboarding, and is financed by resorts. Minimal public money is spent for promotion.
International elite events like the Freestyle World Cup at Deer Valley, the Speedskating World Cup at the Kearns Olympic Oval and the World Superbike Championships at Miller Motorsports Park make annual stops. So do competitions like the Xterra off-road triathlon at Snowbasin Resort near Ogden.
The 60-race Xterra series has also decided to move its national championships, offering more than $100,000 in prize money, to Snowbasin.
Utah's newest big event is the six-day Youth Archery World Championships, which will be followed in 2010 by an annual archery World Cup stop in Ogden, building the state's sporting reputation beyond its mountain and desert fame.
Some of Utah's growing reputation comes from its singular terrain and sites. The Wasatch Front has some of the world's best skiing, and Moab offers excellent mountain biking. The Olympics moved on, but they left behind the speedskating oval, a bobsled track, a luge track and seven world-class ice rinks. The motorsports park features an elite course for auto, motorcycle and kart racing.
And the state provides development programs to anyone who wants to become an athlete. Even the governor, Jon Huntsman Jr., is a motocross racer.
"Increasingly, we have the talent, the athletic base, whether it's skiing or cycling or motorcycling," Huntsman said in a recent telephone interview. "There is no question that making Utah the top spot for adventure sports will help the state. Whether young people do these sports or just watch them on television, when they see it coming out of Utah, it plants a seed in their mind that Utah is a hip destination unmatched anywhere else in the world."
And the efforts are not limited to sports. On a recent weekday night, downtown Salt Lake City was crowded with fans attending a Utah Jazz basketball game. A few blocks away, the Sundance Film Festival's X-Dance was screening the year's outdoor action films.
Nearby, vendors unloaded goods at the Salt Palace Convention Center for the twice-yearly Outdoor Retailer Show, considered the nation's largest such trade show.
The next morning, some of the 17,000 attendees of the outdoor show would be at Snowbasin for Base Camp - a four-day event to try out skis, snowboards and other gear.
Beyond the Utah Sports Commission, the Utah Athletic Foundation works to develop local athletes and make a range of sports available to the state's residents.
"One reason the economic collapse hasn't affected us much is that we are not tied to governmental outlays or funding," said Colin Hilton, the organization's chief executive.
He said the foundation had drastically increased participation in its after-school programs.
"Everybody has an open chance to come to Utah and make their athletic dream come true," Hilton said. "If they have what it takes, Utah will make it happen."
The state is home to two national athletic governing bodies: the United States Ski and Snowboard Association and United States Speedskating, which moved from Ohio to the Olympic Oval two years ago.
Action sports stars have also made the state their home. The skier Ted Ligety, the snowboarder and skateboarder Shaun White, and the bobsled driver Steve Holcomb are among those who grew up in Utah or have moved here.
But perhaps most important for the state's long-term health is the economic development taking place in Ogden. Until the 2002 Games, the Ogden Valley had the image of a backwater. But after hosting the Olympic downhill and the curling competition, the city began negotiating with sporting goods companies in the hopes of having them relocate. Ogden is now the home to Salomon, Rossignol, Atomic and nine other ski companies.
"The downtown area has been transformed by company headquarters that have moved in, literally a cluster that developed around winter sports and action sports," Huntsman said. "You look at the hottest cities in America as a place for business, and you never would have expected to find Ogden on the list. Yet Ogden today is on several lists as the best place to do business, the best economy, the hippest city in America. I think all of it is in part attributable to this whole vision that the state has."