Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Ski season kicks off with high hopes

Sun Valley posts strong opening weekend numbers

Express Staff Writer

Pat Hickey, left, and Eric Summel head home from the Warm Springs base of Bald Mountain Sunday after a day of skiing. Sun Valley Resort reported solid skier numbers over Thanksgiving weekend, the traditional start to the season. Photo by Willy Cook

The 2005-2006 ski season at Sun Valley got off to a strong start over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Sun Valley Resort and several other Ketchum-area businesses posted solid numbers over the period from Wednesday, Nov. 23, through Sunday, Nov. 27, bringing high hopes for the coming winter.

Jack Sibbach, Sun Valley's director of marketing and public relations, said skier numbers at the resort over the first five days of the season could be the foundation for the highest skier-day total for the month of November since 1994.

"They are up. The numbers look good," Sibbach said. One boost for the November numbers came from Sun Valley's decision to open one day earlier than scheduled, he noted.

Sun Valley recorded 1,796 skier visits on its opening day, Wednesday, followed by 2,441 on Thanksgiving Day. Just under 2,000 skiers were out Friday, while on Saturday Sun Valley recorded one of its best November skier totals in recent years, 2,775.

On Sunday, when 1,688 skier visits were recorded, Bald Mountain closed early because of a power outage that shut down all three chairlifts in operation. Sibbach said the River Run, Lookout Express and Challenger lifts all shut down around 2 p.m. People riding the lifts were brought to safety using backup generators but the mountain was closed early.

"People were on the lifts," Sibbach said. "We were able to get them up the mountain at a slower speed."

Idaho Power restored full power to the mountain around 5 p.m., Sibbach said.

Skiing on Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain got a boost Friday, when approximately 6 inches of snow fell in the mountains around Ketchum. On Tuesday, Sun Valley reported having a 42-inch snow base at the top of Baldy and an 18-inch base at the bottom. The weather forecast Tuesday called for snow showers in the Sun Valley area throughout the week.

Carol Waller, executive director of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau, said a surve8 of several Ketchum-area businesses indicated a "mixed bag" of sales reports for the weekend, which is the unofficial kickoff to the winter retail season.

Nine business operators reported an increase in sales activity, three reported seeing the same activity as last year, and nine said sales were below last year's levels.

Rob Santa, owner of Sturtevants Mountain Outfitters in downtown Ketchum, said sales were brisk over the weekend, especially of winter sports "hard goods," such as skis, boots and poles, and "soft goods," such as ski clothing and outerwear.

"We're off to a wonderful start," Santa said. "We were happy that the mountain opened early."

Sun Valley opened one day early after a series of autumn snowstorms blanketed Baldy and Dollar mountains in snow earlier this month. After being opened for Thanksgiving weekend, Dollar Mountain is temporarily closed until Friday, Dec. 16, when the busy Christmas season goes into high gear.

Meanwhile, as snow falls and snowmaking continues, new terrain continues to open up on Baldy. On Tuesday, 17 ski runs were open on the River Run and Warm Springs sides of the mountain. Sibbach said the ski resort's goal is to open the entire mountain before Christmas.

Opening all of Baldy and "having good skiing" over the Christmas holiday season is "key" to ensuring a strong ski season, Sibbach said.

Waller said the solid start is encouraging but it is still too early to tell if Sun Valley and Ketchum will have a banner winter season. Many visitors' reservations are made within a month of their travel dates, she said, making long-range forecasts difficult.

"Christmas looks real solid," she said. "It's nice to keep getting snow because that promotes interest."

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