Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Major Leadville News Story

Unexpected Consequences Run Deep
Changes to the Leadville Race Series hurt the community 

By Baybee Dough, September 25, 2014
The Leadville Messenger

Leadville, CO - Across the table from me sat a man who has weathered many long Leadville winters and has been a firsthand witness to the boom and bust that is at the core of Leadville's rich history.  In 1968, Stan Dupendefend took ownership of the Yellow Donkey Cafe in Leadville after the famous eatery had changed hands several times since its opening in 1934.  For over 40 years, Stan has watched this community change with the times and change depending what minerals were found in the ground.  There have been years when business was good, and years where the cafe almost shut its doors.

Sadly, 2014 has been one of those down years.  After Lifetime Fitness, owner of the Leadville Race Series, announced sweeping changes in response to intense criticism from the endurance community, the economic ripple effect has struck deep in this heart of the Rocky Mountains. 

It all began back in 1983, when the Climax Mine was shut down.  Miner and visionary Ken Chlouber developed the "Race Across The Sky" concept and carried out a 100 mile foot race through the unforgiving Leadville mountains as a way to bring people to this gem in the Rockies and stimulate economic activity.  Thirty years later, his vision had expanded beyond his wildest dreams featuring multiple running and mountain bike races throughout the summer months.  The once economically decimated town in the early 80's has bounced back and become a major Colorado tourist destination for endurance athletes.  A 2012 economic impact study, indicated Lake County benefits to the tune of 15 million dollars a year due to the Leadville Race Series.

For Stan and the Yellow Donkey Cafe, the tourism boom has abruptly fallen into bust.  After complaints of races getting too large, traffic snarls, negative environmental impact, and overall lackluster racer experience, the Leadville Race Series took swift action and announced an across the board 60% cut in the number of racers allowed in each of their races.  For example, the 2013 Leadville Trail 100 Run featured over 1000 runners.  In 2014, that number was capped at 400 and a lottery was instituted for those precious spots as the demand far exceeded that number.  On race day, only 361 showed up at the start line.  Entrance into all the Leadville Race Series races were handled by the lottery system.

The effect of the cuts has once again decimated the Leadville economy.  Tourism is down 75% as many of the athletes that have won spots in the various lotteries, are not from Colorado and don't come to town to train the way local athletes have.  "For many years, our peak season was from late May to late August.  Our hotels were full most weekends and our local businesses counted on the influx of tourists to make or break their entire year in those three precious months.  In 2014, I can't name a single business that wasn't impacted by this massive drop in tourism," said Pea Beeville, the mayor of Leadville, 

Woody Anderson, a three time finisher of the Leadville 100 Run from Denver, was one of the lucky 400 to gain entrance into the recent 2014 race.  "It's sad," Anderson says, "The LT100 in all it's glory was one big and beautiful ultrarunning party.  What has made this race so special to me was that everyone in the Colorado trail running community came out on race day to run, pace, crew, or spectate.  Everyone knows there are many small and quaint races available, but Leadville was grand and spectacular, and that's what we loved about it.  The entire feel of this race has changed.  Anderson went on to share that with less than 400 runners on the course, it often felt like a ghost town.  "There were no familiar faces, no crazy, fun aid stations, no line of headlamps going around Turquoise Lake.  Yes, this eliminated the constant two way traffic on Hope Pass, but the camaraderie of runners passing each other with encouraging words and high fives also went with it."

Time will tell if the endurance community will be satisfied with the new caps in place for the races they so sharply criticized in 2013.  In the meantime, the businesses that have come to count on the dollars the Leadville Race Series brought in prior to this year will need to adapt to this new challenge.  Stan Dupendefend made the decision to lay off half of his staff as they only serve a handful of customers each day.  Unless business picks up,  this eatery will find itself in the storied history books that house so many of Leadville's legends.


Folks, clearly this is a fictitious piece and most details except for the economic study were made up.  I will keep my day job as journalism is not a strength.  I hope my point comes through.  Be careful what you ask for.  If you're not happy with the LT100, keep the criticism constructive and make sure you're accounting for the personal responsibility that comes with signing up for this race.  The loudest voice you can sound is to take your race dollars to one that will meet your needs.  If you choose to fork over the $300, then expect challenges beyond running and embrace them all.  I'm not going to debate Lifetime, race management, cups, water, ramen noodles, traffic, volunteers or anything of the sorts on this blog.  Leadville is and will always be a town and race that I love and support.   -Woody