Friday, June 3, 2011

Valley could become Olympic training site

Groups submit application for Nordic certification

Express Staff Writer

If all goes well, the Sun Valley region will soon be allowed to proudly display the trademark Olympic rings as a certified Nordic training site.

The Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation submitted its application for certification as an Olympic and Paralympic training site to the U.S. Olympic Committee this week. If it's approved, Sun Valley would be the first certified training site for Nordic skiing in the country. Ten training sites for other sports exist nationwide.

"The Sun Valley region has already been acting as a cross-country Olympic Training site," the application states, but adds that official certification would help develop the region's programs.

The application has been in the works since last year, when the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, Wood River Ability Program, the Blaine County Recreation District and Sun Valley Co. joined forces with the Sustain Blaine economic development organization to apply.

Sustain Blaine developed the application and the business plan with direct input from the other organizations, though the Ski Education Foundation would bear much of the responsibility for operating the site and connecting with athletes.

Harry Griffith, executive director of Sustain Blaine, said the area is ideally suited to certification already.

"Other sites have to build trails or hire coaches. We don't, because we already have that," he said. "We can if we want to, but there's no requirement."

The application promotes the region's 200 kilometers of Nordic skiing trails, which stretch from the Quigley Nordic Trails system south of Hailey to the Park Creek system west of Stanley.

This trails network may prove to be the region's biggest selling point, Nordic skiers say.

"You have one of the best trail systems in the United States," said Peter Ashley, vice president of the Nordic Division of Fischer Skis and former coach for the U.S. Women's Ski Team.

In an interview this winter, Ashley said he thought Sun Valley would be an excellent candidate for certification.


"Certainly you have the infrastructure," he said. "You have a community that backs the sport, the coaches are great and the area to train is excellent. You're a model for other communities to emulate."

Jim Keating, executive director of the Blaine County Recreation District, said it's about more than just the trails.

"It's the total package," he said. "It's not just that we have a great trail system or these great programs or these facilities or culture. It's the totality of experience."

Keating added that the trails' accessibility is an excellent selling point, however.

"The programs and the trails traverse the whole valley, and they're right in our backyard," he said. "That accessibility to not just the trails but the services we have to offer is really unique."

Griffith said Sustain Blaine's interest stems from the economic impact that certification would have on the valley. Based on consultations with the foundation and the sport's governing bodies, Griffith estimates the number of local Nordic-centric events such as the Boulder Mountain Tour could grow from 11 to 20 over the next three years. The increase in events would bring an influx of athletes, their families and spectators, which could give the region's economy a boost.

Griffith said Olympic certification could also indirectly boost tourism.

"People come to Olympic training sites because it's a cool place to go," he said.

Griffith said the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation could benefit economically as well.

He said big companies might not sponsor the Ski Education Foundation as a local program, but might sponsor it once the region has an official training site.

However, certification is not a guaranteed boon for the Sun Valley region's economy. Griffith said the region has to promote the designation and take advantage of the opportunities it can offer.

"If we embrace it as a community and start to do special programs around Nordic skiing, that gives us a tool to expand the Nordic market and the Nordic experience," he said.

The application was submitted to the U.S. Olympic Committee earlier this week. The application will be reviewed by the Department of Athletic Services, a process that could take several months, Griffith said.

If all goes well, the committee could make a site visit to Sun Valley for final review before the end of the year, putting the region on track for certification in early 2012.

Griffith, who has been working on the application for months, said the project is important to the region because of the significant economic impacts and its potential to unite the community.

"There's not a lot of people who are going to get upset about an Olympic training site," he said. "Some people get upset about hotels, some people get upset about new businesses, but this [designation] fits Sun Valley's quality of life."

Katherine Wutz:

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