Kalispell lands big soccer tourney

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In March 60 youth soccer teams will converge on the Flathead County Fairgrounds in Kalispell to compete in the first annual Indoor Soccer Championships. Only one will be crowned champion.

The real winner, however, are hotels and restaurants in the vicinity of the fields, said Diane Medler, director of the Kalispell Convention and Visitor Bureau.

The event is the newest addition to a list of annual events designed by the Kalispell Chamber and visitor bureau to bring visitors to Kalispell during the shoulder months when area businesses generally see less traffic.

“With any of our events our goal is to create visitation, to create room nights for Kalispell hotels,” Medler said. “For the first year, with the amount of available turf, we will sell out at 60 teams. We already have really strong interest, so we are confident we will sell out and then look for ways to expand the tournament in future years.”

Early March is also the time teams that compete in the spring are beginning to really train in earnest, and this is a good opportunity for the chamber to help regional soccer teams sharpen their skills with a serious competition early in the year, Medler said.

It’s also about the time ski season has mellowed out and far too early for summer traffic to start flowing. The mountains are still often locked with snow, confining people to the valley when the lakes and rivers are still extremely cold.

“These are all times when the Flathead Valley is a little quieter and we can use an influx of visitors,” Medler said. “This creates a reason and a strong incentive for people to come into the area.”

Other examples of the visitor bureau’s signature events include the Spartan Race and Montana Dragon Boat Festival.

Medler and her colleagues work closely with area hotels to advertise package deals to families that come to town for these events. She said they are key in helping hotels make it through the slow times of the year.

Carly Degenhardt is the sales manager at the Hampton Inn in Kalispell, and she vouches for Medler’s efforts.

She said they do get a good amount of traffic in both summer and winter months, but their real busy season is from the middle of June to the second week of October.

They get periodic traffic in the winter months, but by March the winter traffic has often mellowed out and they experience a noticeable uptick when the chamber plans events that bring large amounts of families to the area for multiple days.

“It’s very helpful for us,” Degenhardt said about the chamber events. “They are a good support system for us, so we sure do appreciate them.”

In the first annual Montana Indoor Soccer Championships, teams from the U-12 through U-19 age groups from around the Pacific Northwest, Alberta and British Columbia will all compete. Teams from across Montana and into British Columbia have already registered, Medler said.

The games will be played on turf fields that conform to international futsal (indoor soccer) regulations in the 45,000-square-foot Trade Center at the fairgrounds. Teams are guaranteed a minimum of three games, after which winners will continue to play. More information and registration information can be found at www.montana.soccer.

Nate Evans, executive director of Montana Sports Indoors, said when the organization was started “it was just about the local community and kids, giving them something to do in the winter. Not everyone can ski every day.

“We were the first facility of this kind in the state,” he added.

The turf fields are temporary, and rolled up after use when other events need to happen in the Trade Center space at the fairgrounds. Evans said the process is labor-intensive, but is worth it to extend the competitive season of young players growing up in a snow state.

He said that though the fields were purchased about a year ago with youth players in mind, his organization is excited to be playing a beneficial role with the local business community as well.

“That’s kind of a cool indirect impact,” Evans said.

Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at 758-4438 or pfrissell@dailyinterlake.com.

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