TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — A few years ago, Todd Jackson, director of the Kings Beach-based race company Big Blue Adventure, noticed the Donner Lake Triathlon was for sale.
“People think it's funny you can buy a triathlon,” Jackson told business owners and public officials at a Good Morning Truckee breakfast presentation last month. “But you can. It's a business.”
The business of adventure racing boosts Tahoe/Truckee's economy every year, Jackson said, and if events are marketed right, the power is there to give it an even greater leg up.
Just look at the figures.
Jackson said industry surveys show the number of people participating in triathlons nationwide has increased over the past five years. Two million racers registered last year, as opposed to 1.5 million five years prior, he said.
Racers are motivated by a desire to boost personal times and/or to run longer, more challenging courses, said Jackson — meaning those who run one course are likely to run more in the future.
And the fact participants are an average of age of 37 and have families opens up possibilities for non-traditional events.
Responding to these trends, Jackson said Big Blue Adventure endeavors to offer a range of races aimed at capturing his entire market. This year's Donner Lake Triathlon will include sprint and Olympic courses, as well as a children's triathlon.
“I'm trying to get the word out about the Donner Lake Triathlon,” said Jackson, who sponsors more than 20 events in Tahoe/Truckee area every year. “It's such a beautiful area. I want people in the triathlon world to think, ‘you gotta do it.'”
Jackson hopes his marketing efforts will grow the Donner Lake event from last year's 800 participants to a target registration near 1,300. This summer's race is scheduled for July 15.
Visitors spend an average of about $145 per person, per day at area establishments, said Ron Treabess of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association.
The statistic is a fuzzy average, he said, because it includes people who use a variety of services. Some people camp, others cook in their condos, while others may go as far as to stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe and eat three fine meals a day.
Additionally, participants who stay overnight pay an extra 2 percent transient occupancy tax (TOT), a surcharge on hotel and motel room rates. The tax goes to supporting regional public improvement projects in transportation, infrastructure and other public projects.
Triathlons, bicycling and running events are not the only adventure-based events to bring money into the region.
Consider stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP.
Ronnie Ayres, owner of Watermans Landing in Carnelian Bay, said SUP is the fastest growing water sport in the world; SUP manufacturers have seen a 200 percent increase in sales and are maxing out their ability to keep up with demand.
The sport is also attracting big-name sponsors, such as the outdoor gear provider Quicksilver and the Southern California based wetsuit and all-things-water maker, O'Neill.
SUP is successful for a number of reasons, Ayres says, but its ability to move to inland water is key.
“Tahoe is one of the stand-up paddle destinations of the world, a leader in the touring market for stand-up paddling,” Ayres said. “It's the clarity of the water that brings people here — the serenity of being six feet above the surface rather than in a kayak.”
With nine events scheduled for the Tahoe/Truckee area between May and September of this year, SUP might prove to be a large boost for the regional economy.
Ayers recounted last Memorial Day Weekend, when 75 participants showed up for a race on Donner Lake despite the frigid temperatures and sideways snowfall.
“Can you imagine the enthusiasm on a sunny weekend?” Ayres asked. “Can you imagine how much fun this race would be?”