By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor
BIG SKY – A powerhouse for Montana tourism, Big Sky is up again this year for two state tourism awards.
Among the 16 nominations submitted for the 2013 Montana Tourism Awards were Eric Ladd, CEO of the Big Sky-based marketing and media firm Outlaw Partners (publisher of explorebigsky.com), and the Big Sky Professional Bull Riders event, now in its third year.
The Montana Office of Tourism’s annual awards recognize people and organizations committed to enhancing the tourism and hospitality industry in Montana, according to MTOT communications manager Sarah Lawlor.
“Nominated by their peers, the award recipients are outstanding examples of professionals who, by virtue of their vision, resolve and resourcefulness, are a credit to Montana’s tourism and hospitality industry,” Lawlor said.
The nomination letter for Ladd described his efforts “to use his passion for our amazing state to promote it on an international scale through big thinking and a proactive approach,” noting that he has been “instrumental in Big Sky’s park and trail efforts, major events including the Big Sky PBR, and in supporting efforts to conserve Yellowstone National Park.”
Ladd, who moved to Montana from Colorado in 1999, says he feels “blessed with opportunities given to me by this state and community,” and humbled by the nomination.
“We live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and I strongly believe it’s our responsibility to help grow and preserve this amazing place. It’s a priority in our business to give back to the community and help further responsible growth.”
Before founding Outlaw Partners in 2008, he spent a decade selling real estate at the Yellowstone Club and also served seven years as a board member for the Big Sky Community Corp.
In a letter of support for Ladd’s nomination, Big Sky Town Center Project Manager Ryan Hamilton described Ladd as “a dynamic, creative, and innovative community and business leader… Eric is generous [with] his time, expertise and philanthropy.”
Hamilton noted Ladd’s work with the effort to bring the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame to Big Sky, his continued support of the BSCC, as well as Outlaw’s award-winning publications (the Weekly, Mountain Outlaw and explorebigsky.com), and strategic work with marketing clients.
One such client, the Yellowstone Park Foundation, also sent a letter of support to MTOT for Ladd’s nomination.
“Eric Ladd has been a strong partner by promoting the Foundation through his publications and by donating time and services to help us reach a broader audience,” wrote YPF director Karen Bates Kress. “Eric’s spirit of philanthropy runs through all the work that he accomplishes in promoting the Yellowstone region.”
The Big Sky Professional Bull Riders event, nominated for Event of the Year, drew more than 3,000 people from around the region and the country in 2012, and had an estimated impact in excess of $900,000. The success of the event has prompted organizers to expand it to two nights in 2013, July 31 and Aug. 1.
“It’s been amazing to see it grow from almost an incredulous idea when we first had the meeting, and now we’re up to two days,” said organizer Jim Murphy. “It’s pretty exciting to see.”
Locals and visitors have begun planning their summers with the PBR dates in mind, Murphy said. “Whether that’s existing residents coming here with guests and friends and family, or new people who read about it online… that all adds to the economic benefit of Big Sky.”
The PBR Touring Pro Division commentators have called the Big Sky event “the most beautiful outdoor venue on the entire PBR circuit.” The 2012 event received a MTOT Special Event Grant.
“If anything, it proves Big Sky has the enthusiasm and the capacity,” Murphy said, giving credit to Yellowstone Club principal owner Sam Byrne “for stepping up the first year when we didn’t know if it was going to be a success or a failure. Sometimes you just gotta give it a try, right?”
Murphy imagines other events could build off the success of the PBR. “It’s so beautiful here in the summer.”
The Montana Department of Tourism has been awarding Tourism Person of the Year awards since 1989 and has added other categories throughout the years. These include Tourism Community of the Year, Tourism Event of the Year and Tourism Partnership of the Year.