Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What locals can do

The U.S. Cycling National Mountain Biking Championships last weekend were an example of what local businesses, organizations and governments can do when they cooperate and combine recreation interests with existing infrastructure.

The event showed what the Sun Valley area could be and should be.

Bald Mountain was transformed. Race trails were constructed and strung together with a bumpy and technical rock garden stretch and a rock-face finish to form one of the most challenging cross-country courses competitors had ever seen. The fast and furious short-track events thrilled onlookers as aerobically gifted athletes sprinted short laps.

Ketchum and Sun Valley reverberated with a buzz that inspired locals to oil up their bikes, take to the trails and even to enter the wild downtown criterium that launched the weekend.

The nationals brought competitors of all ages from all over the country, along with families and friends.

Many said they had heard of Sun Valley, but had never been here. Most visitors seemed pleased and surprised at the vast extent of the biking opportunities here, and they went out in force to explore them.

The buzz from the event and the experience of participants can only fuel the good word on the Sun Valley area and spread it to potential visitors.

To spectators, orchestrating the event looked easy. But it was the culmination of work that started with the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber and Visitors Bureau's bid for the event last summer, Sun Valley Resort's agreement to host it and financial support from the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley.

The numbers that show the event's impact on the economy won't be in for a while, but the 98 percent hotel and motel lodging-occupancy estimates for last weekend can mean only good things for a valley that needs some good economic news.

Unless there's some kind of seismic economic shift, the Sun Valley area's economic strength will continue to lie in active outdoor recreation and entertainment. It's a good base upon which to build, but build we must.

The nationals will take place here again next summer, but after that the event will move to another mountain town.

So, what's next?

Will the area host more events like the mountain biking championships? Will local government and business leaders recognize that prime-time events and the interest they attract are key to putting Sun Valley back on the map of cool mountain towns?

Only the cities, the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance and their business partners can answer these questions. Fingers crossed, they will—with a resounding "yes!"

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