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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 


For the week of Nov 27 - Dec 3, 2002

Features

Warm Springs revitalization under way

Skier days slip as businesses 
take strides to reverse trend


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

Warm Springs in Ketchum is considered by many to be the Bald Mountain ski areaís better half. With steep, consistent terrain and an economically diverse base, Warm Springs has thrived for several decades.

Jake Korobkin, 9, and his mother Annette finish a day of skiing on Warm Springs. Express photo by David N. Seelig

But the winds of change have puffed through the quaint base village as increasing numbers of skiers and snowboarders are using the mountainís River Run base and its ample parking to start and finish their alpine adventures.

It used to be that roughly 70 percent of Sun Valley Co.ís skier days were logged at Warm Springs. Now that number has flipped, with roughly 70 percent using River Run to access the mountain. Sun Valley Co.ís pending development of a more complete base at River Run is likely to influence the mountainís dynamics even more.

Meanwhile, commercial real estate in Warm Springs has leveled off following a decades-long rally, while residential properties, like The Hemingways time-share condominiums, are on the rise.

"The viability of commercial business in Warm Springs is very limited," said local attorney Brian Barsotti, who has owned Warm Springs property since the early 1980s. "In the Baldy Base Camp building, we receive less revenues today than we did in 1995. We have fewer tenants, and we canít raise the rents, because weíd put them out of business."

Rise and fall

In the 1970s and 1980s, Warm Springs was widely recognized as the primary access to Bald Mountain. At the time, River Run was merely a parking lot where an old double chair climbed the mountainís eastern flank and connected with two more lifts for skiers wishing to attain the summit.

Conversely, Warm Springs was a thriving base area, complete with lodges, restaurants, ski shops and a scene to rival any major ski area in the country.

"It didnít look like anything was going to happen at River Run for a lot of years," said former Ketchum Mayor Jerry Seiffert. "It looked like Warm Springs was The Place to plan for, base area wise."

Tom Nickel, who co-owned the Creekside restaurant until the early 1980s, also remembers a bustling Warm Springs.

"Everybody started and ended their day at Warm Springs," he said. "Also, because there were no high speed lifts, everybody finished their ski day at 4 p.m. Itís hard to imagine today, but everybody ended their day about the same time."

Nickel said he remembers evenings when 11 bartenders simultaneously mixed drinks as fast as they could at the Creekside.

But, as with most booms, a bust was waiting in the wings.

In the early-1990s, Sun Valley Co. put finishing touches on extravagant new base lodges at both bases. It also finished work on a sophisticated network of high speed, detachable quad lifts that spanned both sides of the mountain.

"That changed it (River Run) from a parking lot with lift access, and crappy access at that, and made it a viable alternative," said Baird Gourlay, co-owner of Paul Kennyís Ski and Sports in Warm Springs.

A shift in skier days and automobile traffic patterns "immediately became apparent," agreed former Ketchum City Administrator Jim Jaquet.

According to numbers compiled by Sun Valley Company, the number of guests riding buses to the two base areas swung from 80 percent at Warm Springs to 80 percent at River Run.

The shift in skier traffic, predicted Barsotti, is here to stay, for better or for worse.

"I think itís irreversible in the long run," he said, "even though everybody recognizes the better part of the mountain is Warm Springs."

Looking for answers

Warm Springs is still accessible, thanks by and large to efforts from the villageís business owners and Ketchum city officials, who have been proactive on parking and transportation issues.

Gourlay, elected to the Ketchum City Council in 2001, first appeared at Ketchum City Hall in the mid-1980s lobbying for improved Warm Springs traffic circulation.

"It used to be chaos down here," he said. "The biggest thing for us was, there used to be a perceived inconvenience in coming out to Warm Springs. Basically, what weíre trying to do is make sure this side of the mountain is an easy, user friendly access to the hill."

The city of Ketchum owns a large property at the corner of Warm Springs and Saddle Roads that it currently provides to the community for parking. Buses stop at the lot, every 15 minutes in the winter, and whisk skiers to within 200 feet of the Warm Springs lifts. Arguably, the "park and ride" access is more convenient than walking the 300 yards from River Runís parking lot to its lifts.

But the number of people boarding buses at the park and ride lot also slipped when Sun Valley finished its River Run facilities, said Ketchum Area Rapid Transit Manager Terry Crawford. Even so, Warm Springs gets more bus traffic than River Run.

"Our major push is still to Warm Springs, probably because thereís not real convenient parking out there," Crawford said.

Also, work to improve Warm Springsí traffic and circulation is ongoing.

Several years ago, parking throughout the village was divided into all-day, one-hour and drop-off zones, and, this winter, a decades-long closure of Picabo Street, which traverses the mountainís base, will be lifted for skier drop-offs and pick-ups.

More changes are probable.

Last week, Warm Springs business owners asked KART if a bus could be dedicated to returning skiers to their vehicles at River Run from Warm Springs during late afternoons.

"We basically have what they want twice an hour," Crawford said, referring to the established bus routes.

In an effort to arrange the route without stops, business owners are working with a local cab company, Sun Valley Chauffeur, to link the two bases between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. for $3 one-way trips.

Crawford said the service could serve as a good trial.

"If they can show us the demand, weíll try to meet it," he said.

Historic perspective

Warm Springsí potential for world-class skiing was recognized early, but it was one of the last parts of Bald Mountain to be developed.

Lifts initially went up only the Wood River side of the mountain, but Warm Springs was also skied and raced. The first skier crossing of Warm Springs Creek, a narrow bridge called "Cottonwood Bridge," was the first ski-related structure built on the Warm Springs side of the mountain. It pre-dated lift service by more than 20 years.

As skiers often chose the narrow path down Warm Springs face as the dayís last run, Sun Valley buses would return guests to the resort or back to the only base lifts at River Run, not unlike the current proposal.

Lifts werenít built on the Warm Springs side of the mountain until Bill Janss bought the resort in 1964 and invested considerably in on-mountain upgrades.

Today, following construction of the new base lodges and quad lifts, more than 10 years of dormancy have slipped by, and another era of mountain and base facilities improvements could be dawning.

Sun Valley is working on a new Bald Mountain Master Plan and is drafting plans to develop the 160 acres at River Run. It is not clear what the River Run plans will include, but a full-scale base area, to some degree, is probable.

"River Run is a special entity," said Sun Valley General Manager Wally Huffman. "It cries to be developed. We need to create a master plan and take it to Ketchum. Six months from now, we will have a plan to submit to Ketchum."

Whatever the result, Nickel, who is reviving his business interests in Warm Springs, said he hopes it wonít compete further with the more established base.

"What I hope is that the two sides of the mountain would have a different feel to them," said Nickel. "The Warm Springs side, I hope, will always have a more local feel, a more small-town feel. Not because itís part of the resort, because it is, but because itís part of the town of Ketchum."

New horizons

For Warm Springs business owners, the flip in base area use throws red flags for obvious reasons, but Gourlay said heís not overly concerned. Warm Springsí boons outweigh its shortcomings, he said, adding that he perceives a "real revitalization" of the area.

"I donít see it as shrinking. I just see it as forgotten about for a while," he said.

Contributing to the revitalization, several Wood River Valley business owners and residents are putting stock in Warm Springs this winter. Wood River Valley native Hank Minor bought Appleís from longtime owner Chris Orr this fall. Nickel, who now owns The Sawtooth Club and The Roosevelt Tavern in downtown Ketchum, is opening a new restaurant where Baldy Base Camp and Barsottiís once were. And Dotty Sarchett, owner of Wrap City burritos, has opened a new lunch spot.

Nickel said he is optimistic about Warm Springsí future. With partners Brendan, Ryan and Sean Sullivan, he is opening The Outabounds Lounge, which will sport a bar and dinner facilities.

"At The Outabounds Lounge, weíre just hoping that, despite the fewer people able to use Warm Springs because of parking, weíre hoping more people will be able to get over there at the end of the day, because itís the spot that just feels more like a ski town," Nickel said. "Itís right there at the foot of the mountain."

Minor said he is excited to continue the long tradition established at Appleís by Orr and other Warm Springs business owners.

"This place really is all about family and kids," he said. "The tradition, thatís where me and C.O. (Orr) have a pretty solid deal. I plan on keeping the tradition."

Orr said local support helped Appleís survive over the long haul, and stressed the common bond Warm Springs business owners share.

"Itís a real family over here," he said.

Gourlay expressed similar enthusiasm for the neighborhood and his business neighbors.

"Itís its own little business core, itís own little niche of businesses out here, and they have a very strong following," he said. "It has diversity.

"The thing Iíve always loved about Warm Springs is, itís a one-stop shop, whether itís ski rentals or a boot fit you want, whether itís a burrito or dinner. If you want choices, youíve got choices, and theyíre all local people who run them."

 

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