Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sun Valley?s winter bookings steady

Resort, chamber say reservations similar to last year

Express Staff Writer

A light dusting of snow covered the summit of Bald Mountain last weekend, exciting skiers who are anxious for the upcoming winter season. Pre-season vacation bookings indicate the coming of a winter season similar to last year. Photo by Willy Cook

Advance hotel-room sales in the Wood River Valley indicate a 2006-2007 winter season on par with last year. That is in light, however, of above-average bookings reported at other Western ski resorts.

Jack Sibbach, Sun Valley marketing and public relations director, said early-October sales forecasts are "nothing spectacular." He said the numbers are about where they were last year.

The Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau is reporting similar sales trends.

"December is looking pretty solid, especially the holiday week, but the rest of the winter is up in the air, where we were last year," said Ellen Gillespie, the chamber's public relations coordinator.

Sun Valley's seemingly static sales are in contrast to above-average skier visits predicted at other Western ski resorts.

The Aspen Daily News reported a surge in bookings for the Aspen, Colo., resort area.

"So far, I'm embarrassed to say the number because it's the highest possible increase that you can think of above an already big number increase," Bill Tomcich, president of the central reservations agency, Stay Aspen Snowmass Inc., told the newspaper. "We're not alone—everybody is doing extremely well, but we are higher than anybody out there."

In the Aspen paper, Tomcich attributed the increase to a strong economy, last year's snowfall records and improved airline service to and from Aspen. He also said returning visitors have learned advanced booking is beneficial to avoid possibly sold-out weekends that generally occur during the holidays and Presidents' Day.

On average, visitors book a trip to Sun Valley a mere 38 days in advance of their arrival, Gillespie said. The trend may reflect travelers desires to see snow conditions before bookings.

Despite Sun Valley's impressive snowfall last season, when conducting sales the resort must contend with concerns about its secluded location and scare lodging.

"The biggest problem is the lack of accessibility and the lack of hotel rooms. It does hurt us in the winter season ... It is a reoccurring complaint every year," Sibbach said.

Anita Northwood, a representative for High Country Resort Properties, a property management and vacation rental company, agreed. She said other Western resorts are easier to get to, making it difficult to compare the bookings at her company with those of other Western resorts. She said it is too early to tell what the season's numbers for the company will look like.

"We are relatively optimistic about the Christmas season and Presidents' weeks," Northwood said.

Others share an optimistic holiday forecast.

"Christmas bookings are paced ahead, about 30 percent ahead of last year," said Joe Vallance, marketing director for Premier Resorts in Ketchum.

He said that over the Christmas holiday a large number of return visitors are expected.

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