Friday, November 27, 2020
Sun Valley Sees Uptick in Skiing Enthusiasm Despite Pandemic
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Bags of mulch containing broom and other drought-resistant species resembled blue-green snow, representing the difficulty of the run on the ski map, as workers scrambled to tuck in the expanded Broadway run on Bald Mountain before snow hit.
   
Tuesday, November 10, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Sun Valley-area business owners are not overly optimistic about the coming winter.

But early indications point to the potential for a busy winter in Sun Valley, despite the ongoing COVID pandemic.

According to Sun Valley Economic Development and Visit Sun Valley:

 
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The new Broadway expansion on Bald Mountain got its first snowfall later that night.
 

  • Sun Valley Resort season pass sales are up and Ski Magazine’s recognition of Sun Valley as the No. 1 ski resort in North America is expected to lure first-time visitors here. The debut of Sun Valley’s new Sunrise quad and the opening of expanded terrain in the Cold Springs area will excite some skiers, while the Epic Pass increases Sun Valley’s visibility to a nationwide audience.

    It doesn’t hurt that Sun Valley Resort is not requiring skiers to make reservations as more crowded resorts are.

  • The Blaine County Recreation District says Nordic pass sales are up 33 percent over last year, and Morgan Buckert said the BCRD is preparing for a significant increase in Nordic skiers this winter. The BCRD is anticipating on selling between 2,600 and 3,000 winter passes this year, compared with 1,900 adult season passes last year. And sales of backcountry ski gear are skyrocketing locally and nationally, even though wholesalers are having trouble supplying retail outlets.
  • The Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation has enrolled 114 more athletes—a 30 percent increase—than 2019. The majority of the growth is on the Nordic teams.

That said, SVED’s poll of local business people indicated that 65 percent expect business this winter to be worse than Winter 2019. Fifteen percent expect it to be about the same, and 20 percent expect it to be better, said Harry Griffith, executive director of Sun Valley Economic Development.

 
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Sun Valley Resort thinned trees on the slope leading to the new Sunrise high-speed quad, which will replace the 50-year-old Cold Springs lift.
 

A poll of those attending Monday’s virtual Economic Summit presented by SVED and Visit Sun Valley was more optimistic. Twenty-five percent predict business will be worse, 58 percent the same and 17 percent better.

Based on trends since the COVID pandemic began, Griffith said, he expects lodging to do poorer and outdoor retail to do better.

CORONA VACATIONERS FLOCKED TO SUN VALLEY DURING SUMMER

Sun Valley rode the demand for wellness-related offerings as the country began to emerge from lockdown in June, said Scott Fortner, executive director of Visit Sun Valley.

 
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The tree thinning not only allows for some nice glade skiing but improves the forest health.
 

Mountain bike sales broke records far and wide, prompting Visit Sun Valley to hawk Sun Valley’s 400-plus miles of single-track trails to new and seasoned users.

With decreased confidence in air travel, more people hit the road. SUN Enplanements were down 72 percent from May to September compared with that of 2019. But traffic counts were up 21 percent between Ketchum and the summer playground of Stanley.

We’ve done pretty well as a community, said Scott Fortner, director of Visit Sun Valley. As we saw people flying here less, we saw people driving more and further distances.

Three businesses closed to COVID and while unemployment is down some workers have lost pay due to working fewer hours.

 
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Flags signaling the new ski area boundary are already up.
 

Hotel room nights sold were down 34 percent compared with 2019, which was one of the best years ever.

Predictably, hotel occupancy took the biggest hit in Spring when Blaine County had one of the highest rates of the virus in the nation and the county restricted hotel use to stop the spread.

Room nights were down 91 percent in May and 48 percent in June. They did better as summer progressed, down 28 percent in August and 13 percent in October, despite the absence of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, Wagon Days, Trailing of the Sheep Festival and Sun Valley Jazz and Music Festival.

Real estate sales were up, however, thanks to an exodus of people from the West Coast who saw Sun Valley as a place of refuge, said Griffith.

Realtors closed 509 sales, with a sales volume of $554 million—a 53 percent increase over the previous year. The median sales price was $660,000, a 39 percent increase.

It remains to be seen whether new homeowners are permanent residents or second home owners, said Griffith.

Mountain Rides continued offering service even as bus service in some places like Crested Butte shut down temporarily. But the bus lost ridership. It’s had 123,000 few riders year to date--down 31 percent--even though all routes are now free.

SUN Enplanements are down 35,000 fliers, a 47 percent decrease.

FROM WEDDING TOWN TO ZOOM TOWN

Fifty-five percent of business owners said they fared worse this summer than last year; 12 percent, the same; 22 percent better, and 11 percent, other.

Great migrations of COVID refugees looking to escape cities came to recreate in Sun Valley’s open spaces, buying up sporting gear and snapping up real estate. They were aided by the ability to rework remotely.

Sun Valley became a Zoom Town as GoToMeeting coupled with employer accommodations allowed people to work from wherever they wanted to be. Off-the-gridders came looking to take advantage of what is some of the largest wilderness in the Lower 48.

Weddings and events took the biggest hit. Adventurers, second home owners and those looking to  recreate with friends and family in the outdoors was the driving force. And longer stays and lack of events had people trying different experiences, such as biking, fly fishing and backpacking.

“Some people had more time so they went out further and stayed longer,” said Fortner.

A LOOK AHEAD

As air confidence in air travel grows, Friedman Memorial Airport, or SUN, offers some “amazing” nonstop flight service this winter with flights to and from Salt Lake City, Seattle, Denver, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco, said Ray Gadd, of Visit Sun Valley.

And the number of diversions due to bad weather is expected to be reduced this winter, thanks to the airport’s new instrument approach procedure that will allow pilots to make precise landings during low visibility.

Early indications point to a strong increase in demand for Nordic track skiing and backcountry skiing, with increased gear sales and interest in avalanche courses.

Galena Lodge will be open to rent equipment but will offer pared-back food and beverage service with limited seating to promote social distancing. Parking may continue to be an issue so people are encouraged to ride the bus.

And Mountain Rides will offer its Galena shuttle bus free of charge on weekends.

Sun Valley will require face coverings to ride lifts. Those who arrive together may ride together.  Otherwise, chairlifts and the gondola will be limited to two per chair or car. Lodges will limit capacity; skiers and riders are encouraged to boot up at car.

WINTER EXPECTATIONS:

Adventure travelers will seek outdoor centric destinations

Remote schooling and work will give families more flexibility to travel.

Travelers will be looking for value-added bonuses, especially when it comes to longer lengths of stays.

Travelers will stay longer since they have fewer obligations for work and school.

Travelers will book stays a few days ahead instead of weeks or months ahead so they can stay nimble in the face of coronavirus spikes.

ADDRESSING COVID

In a poll of businesses, 75 percent indicated they have required face coverings; 70 percent, hand sanitization; 30 percent, professional sanitization; 20 percent, indoor area restrictions; 5 percent, HVAC improvements, and 3 percent, nothing.

Feeling safe is at the top of people’s hierarchy of needs right now, Fortner said. Implementing recommended cleaning and business procedures will instill confidence with customers.

Allowing customers to rebook, reschedule, buy now and shop later will aid in putting people at ease. Flexible options will keep lookers looking and engaged as opposed to scaring them away.

Many visitors have taken a financial hit and are looking to get the best bang for their bucks

A reduction in customers will make it important to increase the yield on those who do purchase.

FREE ECONOMIC SUMMIT CONTINUES TODAY AND WEDNESDAY

  • Tuesday, Nov. 10, 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.—“REC-reation this Winter: COVID Re-creates Outdoor Recreation.” Presenters will be Mike Fitzpatrick of Sun Valley Resorts, Ken Rider of Brundage Mountain, Zach Crist of Sun Valley Guides and Paddy McIlvoy of Backwoods Mountain Sports.

    2-3:30 p.m. WORKSHOP # 1: “Stewardship & Mindfulness in Town & the Backcountry.” Presenters will be Joe St. Onge of Sun Valley Trekking and “Powder Magazine” founder Jake Moe.

  • Wednesday, Nov. 11, 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. “COVID Operational Safety Systems: Innovations for Community Health & Safety.” Presenters are Brian Formusa-HVAC Engineer, Leif Eglthern of SafeAccess and Cathy Swink of the COVID Response Group.

2-3:30 p.m.—WORKSHOP #2: “Maximizing the Dollar Value of the Guest.”

2-3:30 p.m. WORKSHOP #3: “Digital Trends for Your Business.”

To learn more, visit https://sunvalleyeconomy.com/summits/. To register, go to https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/8368150313251912463. Send questions to aly@visitsunvalley.com.

 

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