Beach volleyball’s largest U.S. doubles tournament is many hundreds of miles from any coast. In fact, at over 7,900 feet in elevation, this event’s courts are in the running for some of the sport’s highest.
Begun on Labor Day weekend in 1972, the tournament affectionately known as “the MotherLode” has cemented its place in the history of American volleyball. The brainchild of restaurateurs Howard Ross and Gordon Whitmer, the MotherLode was originally conceived as a way to liven up what the Newport Beach, Calif., natives considered an otherwise uneventful holiday weekend the only way they knew how: with a little volley tournament amongst friends.
As it turned out, the winners of that first tournament were not just friends but beach legends Chester and Steve Goss. From there, things could only go up.
In 1981, Ross and Whitmer turned the tournament’s reins over to Leon Fell, who still produces the event. By that time the tournament hosted over 160 teams, had become bigger than the Colorado Open and was simply too big for the duo to handle. Fell, who had a background in producing world-class skiing events, quickly saw that the tourney had the potential to become a national event. He set out to make it happen.
The event now hosts over 500 teams and gives novices the ability to play in the same tournament as some of the game’s greatest players. A partial list of notable past winners includes: Mike Whitmarsh, Dain Blanton, Linda Hanley, Dax Holdren, Pat Powers, Rachel Wacholder, Jon Stevenson, Nancy Mason, Canyon Ceman and Steve Timmons.
However, what makes this tournament special is that, in spite of growing prize money and despite (or perhaps because of) its popularity with the sport’s elite, the MotherLode has managed to maintain the laid-back, family friendly vibe that it was born with.
This year’s MotherLode Volleyball Classic in Aspen, Colo., takes place Sept. 1-5. Players who flock here get not just a great game but immersion in an Elk Mountains destination known for stunning natural scenery and recreation options aplenty. A former silver-mining town, celebrity-favorite Aspen today is threaded with sidewalks lined with boutiques, galleries and fancy eateries.
But even in this town exuding international chic, the decidedly unpretentious MotherLode holds its own, and fear not—a comfortable stay in this celebrity retreat need not break the bank.
Most of the tournament sessions will take place at parks right in the town of Aspen, and these are walking distance from many of the local hotels, which offer rates as low as $50 for a hostel bed to sky’s-the-limit. (See sidebar for budget/moderate options.) As for restaurants, Aspen has it all—bars and breweries, bistros and bakeries—with meals to suit all budgets.
In considering your high-altitude tourney trip, don’t forget to plan for some time to take in the region’s alpine scenery and recreation. In and around Aspen’s three surrounding wilderness areas (Maroon Bells-Snowmass, Hunter-Fryingpan, and Collegiate Peaks) are plentiful hiking trails. Aspen and Smuggler Mountain are popular destinations for mountain-bikers.
Aspen off the courts is an amazing destination any time of the year. Throw in the excitement of the MotherLode under the late-summer sun, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for an incredible time.
For more information about the 2011 MotherLode Volleyball Classic as well as registration information, visit motherlodevolleyball.com.
Aspen is home to 75 or so hotels, lodges and inns, but the sooner that you can book (read: a month in advance, at the very least), the better. Competing for your ideal room will be not only flocks of other tournament attendees, but also tourists of all sorts who will be there for a last blast of alpine summer over Labor Day weekend.
St. Moritz Lodge
334 W. Hyman Ave.; tel. (800) 817-2069, (970) 925-3220; stmoritzlodge.com
This basic European-style lodge in the town’s western half has been a go-to among laid-back budget travelers for years. What it lacks in frills it makes up for in location and price. It is two blocks from Koch Park, the site of the tournament’s main sand courts. When I visited, I appreciated my simple, tidy room, as well as the onsite heated pool and steam room. Booking options range from a single bed in a shared room (with shared bathroom) to two-bedroom condominiums.
Rates: Hostel beds from $52 per night, lodge rooms $149-$169, condos from $239
Mountain Chalet Aspen
333 East Durant Ave.; tel. (888) 925-7797, (970) 925-7797; mountainchaletaspen.com
Adjacent to town amenities and a stone’s throw from Wagner Park (the site of the tournament’s main grass courts), this great-value property is a cozy number, with some of the rooms and units boasting mountain views. Travelers rave about the friendly service, with special care taken to ensure each guest’s comfort. Nice perks of a stay here include daily hot breakfast; use of pool, hot tub, sauna, and steam room; and free underground parking.
Rates: Rooms $135-$265; apartments $320-$440
Need more options? For help with booking for properties from economy-minded to upscale, contact the official central reservations desk for the area, Stay Aspen Snowmass
(tel. (888) 670-0788; stayaspensnowmass.com). Or contact Frias Properties, who have an extensive supply of condos and private homes in the Aspen area. tel. (800) 54-ASPEN; friasproperties.com
Peach’s Corner Café
121 S Galena St.; tel. (970) 544-9866; peachscornercafe.com
Before serving time in Wagner Park or Rio Grande Field, fuel up at this popular eatery with an outdoor patio. Its healthful menu has something for everyone. Eggs cooked a variety of ways, waffles (including a “Mickey Mouse” version for kids), paninis and more are served up for breakfast, while lunch sees more paninis, as well as salads, soups, quiches, and pizza. Said the Aspen Times: “The ever-growing menu—much of it from local producers—is exquisite.”
Dishes: $7 – $11
221 E. Main St.; tel. (970) 925-5338; pyramidbistro.com
This relatively new dining spot sits above the popular Explore Booksellers and is all the rage of late among the health-conscious for its lovely, tranquil environs and delicious food. Though the offerings weigh heavily in the vegetarian camp (those on raw-food, macrobiotic and gluten-free diets will do just fine here), also available are organic, humanely raised meat items like fish and chicken. The menu emphasizes fresh and seasonal, with creative twists as well as lots of greens and whole grains, like the spelt gnocchi with parsnips, slow roasted tomatoes and collard greens. Vino comes from wineries with bio-dynamic and sustainable practices. Open for lunch and dinner.
Lunch mains: $10 – $15; dinner mains: $14 – 24
And there’s plenty more to taste-test in town. Consider stopping in for a meal at La Cantina (411 East Main St., tel. (970) 925-3663; cantina-aspen.com; dinner mains $16
– $22), a true tourney favorite that offers $4 margaritas and $2 Bud at happy hour. The popular Mezzaluna Ristorante (624 E. Cooper Ave.; tel. (970) 925-5882; mezzalunaaspen.com; dinner mains $18 – $34), which has wood-fired pizza among its offerings, will be the site of the after-tournament party (find more details on motherlodevolleyball.com in the months leading up to the event).
By The Numbers
Days of the complete volleyball festival that will include clinics, parties and a finale concert
Number of division winners at last year’s event
Number of states represented in 2010
Number of teams that participated in last year’s MotherLode
The number of teams organizers are trying to top at this year’s tourney
The estimated number of people who travel to Aspen specifically for the tournament
The number of spectators who flow through both the main championship courts and six additional playing sites located in and around the Aspen area
Prize money, split evenly between men’s and women’s open divisions, players will be competing for
Originally published in May 2011