Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Ski Tour makes its mark

?Loudest Show on Snow? delivers youth and business


By TREVOR SCHUBERT
Express Staff Writer

In spite of frigid conditions hovering somewhere below zero for most of the weekend, The Honda Ski Tour saw droves of eager skiing and music enthusiasts hit the slopes and streets of the northern Wood River Valley last weekend. Copious amounts of talent—sporting skis, guitars or dreadlocks—helped ensure the cold weather was pushed to the back of spectators' minds.

"To me, it was almost better that it was as cold as it was," said local Zach Crist, who competed in the event's skiercross competition and is a member of The Honda Ski Tour's original think-tank. "Everyone in town still came out. It showed just how much the people in town appreciated the event."

The athletes didn't seem to mind the weather, either.

"Numerous athletes said this far outdid the X Games," Crist said.

Halfpipe competition winner Simon Dumont, of Bethel, Maine, agreed.

"It's really cold, but these people came out here, so we're going to put on a good show and hopefully psyche these people up," Dumont said.

The enthusiastic seed that was planted on the slopes grew on the streets and bloomed in the local bars and at the BaseCamp Music Pavilion, located in Ketchum on East Avenue between Fourth and Second streets.

Headliner bands including The Wailers on Friday and Three Days Grace and Hinder on Saturday provided spark that kept packed crowds of visible-breathed spectators entertained.

The Wailers played outside in temperatures well below freezing for more than 1,000 well-bundled reggae fans who turned out to watch the band that vaulted the late Bob Marley to legendary status.

The following evening, Three Days Grace and Hinder brought hordes of fans into the BaseCamp tent, rocking the crowd well into the night.

"Oh my god, man," Crist said of the musical acts gracing the normally quaint streets of Ketchum. "The entertainment was easily the biggest success of the event. Everyone in town came out."

The caliber of the event impressed more than local residents.

"I was impressed," said Carl Wilgus, administrator of the Idaho of Commerce and Labor Tourism Division. "I hadn't seen that kind of enthusiasm and energy in Idaho in the last 10 to 15 years."

Wilgus, who has been the head of the tourism division since 1987, has quite a background from which to draw.

"Sun Valley is a world-class destination," Wilgus said. "Primarily, the visitors are like myself: aging baby-boomers. This event brought in an entire new demographic of young potential clientele."

Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau Public Relations Coordinator Ellen Gillespie reported that, according to an anonymous poll conducted of local businesses, retailers and restaurants fared quite differently.

The retail sector may have experienced the one shortfall that can be attributed to the cold weather. Of the retail business that responded, 38 percent reported lower sales last weekend than the same time last year, with 31 percent coming out ahead and 31 percent showing no change.

"Retail depends a lot on foot traffic and window shopping," Gillespie said. "The cold weather probably kept a lot of people off the streets."

Restaurants and bars fared far better, however, with 65 percent reporting higher sales than last year.

"Some of the comments we received from restaurants and bars included, 'Business was really up,' and, 'We had great business from the younger crowd. Let's have a major winter event every year,'" Gillespie said.

In addition to the service industry, lodging appeared to fare well. According to Central Reservations, a lodging company that books accommodations throughout the Wood River Valley, "reservations were really up this year," Gillespie said.

"On Saturday, rooms were almost completely sold out for the entire Wood River Valley," she said.

Sun Valley Resort was "pretty full Saturday night," said Jack Sibbach, the resort's spokesman. "But we usually are full this time of year because of Martin Luther King Day."

Sibbach said Sun Valley Co. was proud to be able to contribute to the community-wide effort, which was necessary to put an event of such magnitude on.

"This brought the city of Sun Valley, the city of Ketchum and representatives from The Ski Tour together," Sibbach said. "We just hope we will be considered again next year."

The sheer amount of media coverage and the impending hour-long ABC TV special of The Honda Ski Tour airing Saturday, Jan. 20, at 5 p.m. MST, will provide a huge boost to the local economy, Wilgus said.

"Whatever (The Ski Tour co-founder) Kipp (Nelson) and crew have done to attract media worked," Wilgus said. "This represents a couple million dollars in economic impact."

He added: "To the credit of the community, people are acknowledging what is missing and reaching out to an entire new group of visitors."

Gillespie roughly estimated that the advertising value of an hour-long ABC primetime special is "worth hundreds of thousands of dollars."

In terms of media attention, this event is nearly unprecedented for the state of Idaho, Wilgus said.

"We generally don't get that kind of TV coverage," he said. "After the TV show airs is when Sun Valley really gets introduced to America."

Some may say re-introduced, as Sun Valley is America's original destination ski resort. Wilgus also sees the fact Sun Valley and Ketchum were the first stop on The Tour as a positive.

"It is a nice thing having it in early January. This means we could see an impact (in terms of skier numbers and visitors) this season," Wilgus said. "Squaw Valley (Calif.) won't hold their event until March, and it's difficult for enthusiasm to hold over a six- or seven-month period."

Television was not the only news medium that arrived in flocks. Print media arrived by the busload as well.

"I was told there was over 70 media credentials distributed," Wilgus said.

Although Gillespie was unable to verify the exact number of credentials distributed, she did confirm there were some heavy hitters in the media tents.

"As far as print media, we saw reporters from The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Denver Post, and The LA Times," to name a few.

According to Gillespie, major magazine representatives in attendance included reporters and photographers from Powder, Skiing, Ski Racer and Free Skier. There was also a documentary film crew following the every move of extreme sports legend Shaun Palmer. Palmer was unfortunately injured during training and had to forfeit his Paul Mitchell Dark Horse spot in the skiercross competition.

In terms of the overall success of the event, Crist said, "You know, only time will tell, but as far as how it was perceived it was a huge success."

Crist noted that "initially, there was just a small group of us. But by the end it took hundreds of people from many different companies and different parts of the country to make this work. To see it actually carried out—and in a pretty seamless way—was like, wow."




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