Denver Direct: Denver Big Air Takes Flight Today in Civic Center Park

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Denver Big Air Takes Flight Today in Civic Center Park

by Michael Smilanic of

See additional photos in previous post

The competitors that will be catching “Big Air” straddle a precariously thin line between success and failure, as they launch off the taller-than-the-Brown-Palace-ramp that faces the velvet rope crowd. “Big Air” is a regular competition in which riders and freeskiers are judged on the height and difficulty of the air, the control of the move and the precision of the landing.

The event itself straddles the same thin line between success and failure given the event has become controversial. The controversies have run the gamut and include: ticket prices, concern over the park’s prolonged closure, and the thin list of marquee competitors.

The High Price Tickets vs. Free Access For All

Denver Sports, the non-profit organizing the event, has 600 VIP “velvet rope” tickets they are selling at $200 each, which includes entrance to both day’s events, food and drink, and an actual seat to sit in. The seats are isolated at the bottom of the City & County Building plaza on a raised platform.

The general admission tickets are $80 and include entrance to both days events, and a first-come, first-served, place to stand in Bannock Street. When Denver Sports was contacted on the number of tickets sold, the estimate was “5,000”. Tickets for a single day are $45.

When the event was first announced last October, ticket prices for general admission were $107. After scathing reviews and on-line blog posts, the prices were adjusted down to $80. Attendance figures were originally estimated to be 20,000 and have dwindled to 7,000.

Those wanting to view the event from a less optimum vantage point can check out the small southwest section of Civic Center Park which is open, and free. It is not large and speculation is that overcrowding may become a critical issue. Kevin Scott, from the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs, has said that “The whole park will be open,” but that rings insincere, once one visits the park and sees how much of the park is fenced off.

The Denver Post quoted Larry Ambrose, the co-chairman of the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation Parks and Recreation Committee, that “it would be much better if it was free.” Another quote from Rob Fitzgerald of Denver had him agreeing, “It should be a free event.” Such sentiment is not far removed from the larger events that are annually hosted in Civic Center Park, such as People’s Fair and Taste of Colorado.

Closing The Park

Work on the Big Air ramp started January 12, and since that time the park has been fenced off, except for a few access areas along pathways that will facilitate park use once the event is underway. Visitors were not allowed to use Civic Center Park this weekend though construction was complete. When asked how long it would take to return the park to the normal, event organizers declined comment. The estimate from some workers was “about ten, eleven days” with a question mark.

Concerns over how the ramp was to be anchored were debated between Denver’s Park Department and the Building Department. It was resolved by using tons of concrete “K-rail” barriers that are normally used for highway construction to hold the ramp down, but will most likely contribute to more wear and tear on the park.

The benefits of a month long closure to the central park of Denver that benefits only a small sliver of the metro population seems a rather indulgent choice for city officials to make. Adding more confusion to the park is the construction on the Broadway side, which has so much fence, it seems like a maximum security facility. How the park will fare once all the ramp elements have been dismantled remains to be seen.

World Class City, World Class Competition

Only by association can Denver be a world class city. Or so it seems. The TV commercial for “Big Air Denver” reels off cities of previous competitions. Quebec, Stockholm, Seoul.

Quebec held Big Air event in a less than ideal place, next to a highway overpass (see attached photo). Stockholm’s took place in their Olympic Stadium, while Seoul’s was in their downtown square. There are a number of venues close to downtown, with infrastructure, seating, that would have been excellent choices for Big Air Denver. Those venues would have been easier to build the ramp with fewer inconveniences to Denver. And speaking of inconveniences, is it considered world class to hold a five hour event and not provides seats for the majority of your viewers?

World class events require world class participants, and the field is rather thin. The highest ranked Snowboard competitors are listed 31, 35 and 39 in world rankings, roughly about 12% of the field. The lowest ranking participant of the group is ranked 2336, and there is one unranked participant. Organizers promise there are diamonds to be found in this group, although, for a world class competition, some of the top ten in the world should make an appearance.

When Big Air was first announced, names were thrown out such as Shaun White, Tim Wallisch, and Bobby Brown, a Cherry Creek High School grad and reigning Big Air freeskier champion. But they won’t participate. Much of the on-line conversation was questioning the timing of this event, given the X Games will take place later this week in Aspen. The strong sentiment was “why do this so close to the premier event of the season?” That sound you hear is the whiff of big massive air, missing the target on getting top competitors to be involved in this world class event.

Success or Failure

Whether Big Air is a success or a failure will depend on who you ask.

Kevin Scott of DOCA will say it was because he’s paid to say that, plus he was dead-on about the “whole park being open” during the event. It will be a success for the sponsors because their logos are everywhere to be seen, and will probably be up after the event has closed. It will be a success for the 600 in the velvet rope crowd because they were comfortable, sitting in seats, with free food and drink. Those who watched from the park will agree, because it was free. The fence company will agree it’s a success, and one can only agree with them, because they put up huge truckloads of fence to keep the park open. And hopefully, for Denver residents that are challenging the commercialization and privatization of Denver’s parks, it will be a success, because it failed, and Big Air won’t be allowed to desecrate Civic Center Park, the vibrant gem of the City Beautiful, again.