Some destinations are synonymous with sports, renowned for the games or events they either created or cultivated.
Indianapolis, Indiana, was once a major automobile manufacturing hub, a heritage that endures today in its auto racing industry. Before the Masters Tournament came to Augusta, Georgia, the city was a well-known seasonal golf retreat. Hawaii gave birth to surfing. Kentucky is the heart of horse racing, and one of World War II’s “soldiers on skis” founded Colorado’s famous Vail ski resort.
“Before there was the city of Vail, there was Vail Ski Resort, founded by two World War II veterans and avid skiers: Pete Seibert, who served in the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, and Earl Eaton, an Army engineer who discovered the peak he called No-Name Mountain, which later became Vail.
Because the city of Vail was developed as the base village for the resort, which opened in 1962, “Vail is definitely an iconic ski destination,” said Sally Gunter, senior communications managers for Vail Mountain. “Once you ski at Vail, you know.”
For Vail’s Ski and Snowboard School, ski instructors guide up to six people, grouped by ability or interest, as they explore Vail’s 5,000 acres. Instructors help people improve while also keeping everyone together, whether the group wants to ski back bowls or stay on groomed blue terrain.
The First Tracks program allows groups of any size to ski on fresh powder or freshly groomed terrain before the mountain opens. By the time lifts open to everyone else, a group could already be breaking for a private breakfast.
Groups can also face off in timed or head-to-head races on Vail’s EpicMix course and win resort-provided gold, silver and bronze medals. After a day of skiing or boarding, groups can buy out Vail’s snow park, Adventure Ridge, or make reservations for tubing, ski biking, snowshoeing and zip lining. In town, the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame offers guided tours.
The Kentucky Derby is known as “the fastest two minutes in sports,” but with the race drawing a record-setting 170,000 spectators to Churchill Downs last year, it can be a tough two minutes to see, especially for groups.
To experience the Derby, Saundra Robertson, tourism sales manager for the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau, recommends working with a tour operator that “has been coming year after year” to get a feel for it.
But group travel planners don’t have to attend the Kentucky Derby to experience live horse racing at Churchill Downs. The track offers special rates for 24 or more at other times during the season, and groups can reserve outdoor box seats, book private suites or dine in the Millionaires Row and Skye Terrace dining room.
General admission to the Kentucky Derby Museum includes a guided walking tour of the track facility with views of the finish line, the twin spires and Winner’s Circle. The museum also offers several exclusive group options. During the Backstretch Breakfast tour, visitors enjoy breakfast while watching horses do their morning workouts. Hatitude lets guests design their own Derby hats, and Off to the Races allows groups to learn about wagering and handicapping during a mock race. Interactive, hands-on exhibits also let three people race each other on moving model horses or record themselves calling a race in a soundproof booth.