The GoPro Mountain Games and the Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS Ski World Cup have become iconic athletic events kicking off the summer and winter seasons in Vail and Beaver Creek, respectively. They are part of a near-40-year legacy of international events held by the Vail Valley Foundation as part of its mission in athletics. They share in common that they are both free to spectators, help bring the global spotlight to our mountain valley and raise quality of life for all.

By the Numbers

million online engagements for virtual GoPro Mountain Games
hours of livestream content
in-person events and 3 virtual events
unique athletes welcomed

The art of

USA Champion

Tommy Ford won the 2019 Xfinity Birds of Prey Giant Slalom. The USA Men's team is expected to be even stronger when it returns to Beaver Creek in 2021. Photo by Agence Zoom.

The Mountain Games, which began in 2002 and became a property of the Vail Valley Foundation in 2008, have grown to host more than 80,000 spectators and 4,000+ athletes over four days in June. More than 140 brands take part in the event each year, and the event brought an economic impact of $7.3 million to Vail in 2019. Also in 2019, the event’s global media presence brought nearly 400 million impressions, 1.7 million video views, and an $849 million media value.

The Xfinity Birds of Prey began in 1997 with the first test event for the 1999 Alpine World Ski Championships. Its downhill course, designed by Swiss Olympic champion Bernhard Russi, instantly captured the imagination of the skiing world. Since then, the downhill course has been legendary, and is the starring attraction of three days of racing (and three more of training) in early December each year. Around the world in 2019, more than 100 million watched the races, including domestically on NBC & NBC Sports Network. Together with marketing, traditional, and social media, the event gathered more than 470 million impressions and a $589 million media value.  More than 16,000 fans watched from the finish stadium in Beaver Creek, with their energy and excitement elevating the Beers of Prey, silent disco, and other ancillary activations in Beaver Creek Village throughout the weekend.

Events of this magnitude require year-round planning, and the Vail Valley Foundation staff had already laid out detailed plans for what was shaping up to be a very successful, entertaining, and beneficial year for both of these iconic athletic events in 2020.

When the pandemic took hold in March, the simplest course of action for the VVF would have been to immediately cancel the events. Many other international sporting organizations had taken that approach, and headlines each day announced cancellations across the world of athletics.

Not so for the VVF, who creatively searched for new solutions, and generated new ideas, that would keep the community engaged throughout 2020.

“It was clear from the start that the pandemic was going to be a very difficult for everyone, and the  active, outdoor enthusiast demographic who love our athletic events are no exception,” said Dave Dressman, Event Director for the GoPro Mountain Games and Vice President of Sales and GRFA for the Vail Valley Foundation. “We felt that if we kept at it, and worked with public health officials, sponsors, and partners, that we could find a way to keep some form of these events alive, and by doing so, bring a bit of good news and outdoor activity to the people who are a part of our global mountain community.”

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The Vail Valley Foundation, in everything they did this summer, took this situation head-on and did not run and hide. They did everything they could, within public health guidelines, to keep our community active, economically vibrant, and physically and mentally healthy. We very much value our longstanding partnership with the VVF.

Dave Chapin
Vail Mayor

The Xfinity Birds of Prey is a tremendously popular stop on the World Cup tour for all our athletes, fans, and partners, so it was a very difficult decision for all of us in the skiing world to not bring the tour to North America this year. However, we know that the Vail Valley Foundation and the ski racing community will be back and better than ever in 2021. We can’t wait to be back in Beaver Creek.

Eric Webster
U.S. Ski & Snowboard

A year-round

Breathing space

Yoga was one of the activities that worked in 2020. Photo of 2019 GoPro Mountain Games yoga by Dan Davis.

For the GoPro Mountain Games, this included a June 24 livestream concert, three virtual events, and a series of 4 in-person, physically-distanced, pop-up events. The Vail Valley Foundation’s ‘never give up’ attitude caught on, raised spirts, and generated more than 1 million digital engagements throughout the course of the summer.

Mountain Games is a complicated event, featuring more than 30 events and 12 disciplines over its four-day span. Birds of Prey is quite different in its structure: it involves the National Organizing Committees of approximately 24 member nations, as well as its international governing body, the International Ski Federation (FIS), and the event is held in partnership with the U.S. Ski Team, Vail Resorts, and a host of other partners and sponsors.

Conversations, plan B options, even some plan C options, were considered and vetted throughout the spring and summer of 2020. Eventually, the writing was on the wall: On Aug. 20, 2020, the VVF was part of a joint announcement to cancel the North American leg of the Audi FIS Ski World Cup tour. In a press release, VVF President Mike Imhof shared the sentiments of everyone involved:

“North America’s skiing community has tremendous spirit and resolve, and while we are saddened that, this year, we will not be able to gather in person to witness the iconic feats of athleticism that are the hallmark of the legendary Xfinity Birds of Prey, it is clear this decision is in the best interest of the health and safety of the world cup athletes, coaches, technicians, volunteers, media, staff, all of the World Cup fans, and the World Cup tour itself. We look forward to welcoming the world back to Beaver Creek in December 2021, and thank all of our partners for their hard work, thoughtful discussion, and unity throughout this process,” said Mike Imhof, President of the Vail Valley Foundation.

Although the Xfinity Birds of Prey could not take place in person in 2020, they were celebrated online, in the media, and in the hearts of many during their planned weekend of Dec. 4-6, 2020.

The Xfinity Birds of Prey, and the GoPro Mountain Games, are both on track to take place in 2021. Plans are already being made to bring the events back, and better than ever, when the tide of the global pandemic ebbs, and we can begin to rebuild, and lead the way back to better times.