Hill Climb overhauls rules for spectators with safety in mind

April 24, 2014 Updated: April 24, 2014 at 5:58 am
photo - New spectator regulations will be put into place this year that will limit viewing to six locations on the course. (Gazette file)
New spectator regulations will be put into place this year that will limit viewing to six locations on the course. (Gazette file) 

Fearful that higher speeds could lead to catastrophe, organizers of The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb have taken a proactive stance.

New spectator regulations will be put into place this year that will limit viewing to six locations on the course. What was just a few years ago an unrestricted free-for-all for fans will be limited to about a mile and a half of viewing territory.

"No logical person is ever going to stand on I-25 and look at the cars coming and lean out onto the road," said Megan Leatham, the race's executive director. "Yet, on Pikes Peak, those rules and common sense go away because it's such a chaotic event. We've been noticing that some common sense was lacking, so it was our job as event organizers to put rules into place to provide safety for everyone."

The hope was to have rolled out these changes over a three-year window, but they will instead all be in place for the June 29, 2014 race. Law enforcement from El Paso and Teller counties will be on hand to issue trespassing citations for those not following the new rules.

"We just don't want to do this one year too late after something tragic has happened," Leatham said.

The new policies will alter part of what makes the race unique, and Leatham said that factor was weighed heavily. However, increased speeds from racers on the now-fully paved 12.42-mile course left the board of directors feeling it had no choice.

The 10-minute mark was once the sacred target, but eight drivers broke that mark last year, with Sebastien Loeb cruising in at 8:13.878. There is little margin for error around the corners, where spectators are often huddled.

"We anticipate some pushback from people who have gone up there for many years and have their favorite spot," said Tom Osborne, the race's chairman of the board. "Quite honestly, if we had a major incident and 20 people were killed by a car going 150 miles per hour, the race would be in jeopardy."

Losing the 98-year-old race, Leatham and Osborne said, would be a large blow to the community.

An economic study after last year's Hill Climb found that the race generated 20,800 out-of-town visitor nights in Colorado Springs, $6.6 million in direct sales by local businesses and more than $500,000 in sales and lodging taxes, as well as the income tax from the equivalent of 111 full-time jobs that are created as a result of the race.

"It's up to the organizers of the race, the board of directors, to make sure of the safety of the race for the riders and drivers," Osborne said. "If it's a little inconvenience to the spectators we apologize, but if we don't do this it's shame on us."

A general ticket will give spectators early morning access to any of six viewing locations - the start line, Halfway Picnic Grounds, Ski Area, Glen Cove, Cove Creek and Devil's Playground. Once fans settle into those locations they cannot leave for the duration of the race.

With spectators corralled into specific sections, the intent over time is to include concessions, souvenir vendors and shuttle-bus service. Big screens may also be set up to utilize the online live stream - viewed last year by 1.2 million people worldwide - and allow fans in designated areas to follow the race more closely.

"We're extremely excited about the potential this gives," Leatham said.

The night before the race will remain the only night of the year when camping is allowed by the highway on the mountain, with 200 permits being sold. The campgrounds are located within the designated viewing areas.

Hikers climbing the mountain that day will be find plenty of signs along the trail informing them that a race is taking place and outlining areas that are prohibited. Hikers would be subject to citations should they attempt to view the race from unauthorized locations.

"We encourage people to come out and attend the event," Leatham said. "We don't think these changes are going to be as drastic as they look on paper as far as people's ability to enjoy the race. But if they are not comfortable with it, we ask them to watch our live stream."

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