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Economy won't freeze out Winter Dew Tour

Aggressive plans are made for the future.

February 22, 2009|Pete Thomas

TRUCKEE, CALIF. — As it has happened so often before, a major ski superpipe competition came down to a duel in the bright lights between Simon Dumont and Tanner Hall.

On Saturday night at Northstar-at-Tahoe resort, it was Hall's turn to out-soar his rival, using the contest's final run to pull in front and claim a Winter Dew Tour victory and the Dew Cup series ski superpipe championship.

It was an electrifying display, at times 20 feet above the superpipe walls. Hall opened with a 1260-degree spin and added three variations of 900s, plus an alley-oop flat-spin 360, en route to the momentous triumph.

"When I went down on my last run I knew it was either going to be first or second, and that's always a good feeling," said Hall, 25, of Kalispell, Mont. "It felt like I skied really well and put together a really consistent clean run, and that's what contests are all about."

Perhaps, but the most impressive related performance might still be a behind-the-scenes meeting held Thursday to kick off the Toyota Championship, the last of three events in the inaugural Winter Dew Tour.

Alliance of Action Sports (ALLI) executives aggressively planned for the future despite a derailed economy that has already killed at least four international snowboard and ski competitions, and resulted in a visibly leaner Winter X Games last month in Aspen, Colo.

Wade Martin, ALLI president, acknowledged the effects of the recession but said of the Winter Dew Tour: "We're fortunate that most of the heavy lifting on the sponsorship side was done prior to the fallout."

The tour, which culminates today with the snowboard superpipe final, was launched four years after a successful five-event summer Dew Tour featuring skateboarding, bicycle motocross and freestyle motocross.

Both tours are owned by NBC Sports and MTV Networks and, according to Martin, neither has experienced setbacks in terms of TV viewership and on-site attendance.

Panasonic, one of the founding partners of the summer series, is the lone title sponsor to have pulled out, and ALLI has not yet filled the void.

"We're going to see that kind of thing with everybody cutting budgets," Martin said. "But I think we're seeing more growth than anyone else doing what we do."

Toyota, which also sponsors the Toyota Challenge summer event at Salt Lake City, will be back at Northstar next year and is close to renewing its contract with the summer tour.

Paul Czaplicki, a marketing manager for Toyota, said it's increasingly important to maintain brand awareness these days, especially among the younger demographic.

"What we don't want to do is end up being like an Oldsmobile, where the customers aged and died and they didn't have new customers flowing in," Czaplicki said.

Nike 6.0, the youth-oriented action sports brand beneath the Nike umbrella, has 10 sponsored athletes competing in Winter Dew Tour events and three in summer tour events.

The company is finalizing plans to take on a title-sponsorship role this summer.

"We still need to invest to help grow the brand and fulfill long-term goals," said Nike 6.0 spokeswoman Sierra Domaille. "If you hold back you're going to stop your growth."

Athletes, naturally, embrace the Winter Dew Tour's arrival and expressed varying opinions on the economy's impact on action sports.

"I'm not sure it affects snowboarding that much," said Shaun White, 22, a multimillionaire snowboarder who has binding contracts with numerous corporations. "But anything that can keep people's mind off all that other stuff is good. Anything to bring more people to the mountain is obviously going to be better for our sport."

Tyler Flanagan, 15, a budding snowboarding star who lists Volcom as his primary sponsor, said young athletes are finding it more difficult to gain corporate support and that the Winter Dew Tour fills a glaring void.

"A lot of contests are getting canceled, like the Vans Cup and Vail Sessions," said Flanagan, of Mammoth Lakes. "This is super important; it's what everyone wants."

The epitome of a budding action sports star, Flanagan will depart Truckee with no Winter Dew Tour medals, but having made his mark even before finishing seventh in Friday's slopestyle final.

A day earlier, during practice, he crash-landed after spinning a 1080 high above the hard snowpack. His right eye swelled half-shot and resembled crushed raspberries. But Flanagan went back up for prelims, nailed the same trick and qualified third to advance to the final of a major competition for the first time.

"I don't even know what happened," he recalled.

"I just know I landed on my face."

--

pete.thomas@latimes.com

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