Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Impact of Olympic designation uncertain

USOC director to visit next month

Express Staff Writer

A classic-style Nordic Junior National qualifying race was hosted last February by the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation on one of its Lake Creek trails system courses. The system is under consideration as an Olympic training site. Photo by Mountain Express

As a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee prepares to visit Sun Valley and possibly designate the area as an official Olympic Nordic training site, members of a spearheading group say they want specifics on how designation would help the valley's economy.

Alicia McConnell, director of athlete services and programs for the U.S. Olympic Committee, will visit Sun Valley on Feb. 2-3, a change from her originally scheduled visit date of Jan. 31.

The site visit is the final step in gaining certification as a training site, but Sustain Blaine board members pointed out during a meeting Monday that one more step must be taken: ensuring the community is clear on how designation will help the valley.

"It's one thing to get a whole bunch of merit badges, but it's another to put fire-making and search and rescue into practice as a Boy Scout," said George Kirk, developer and Sustain Blaine Board member. "We helped put [the U.S. Olympic Committee application] together under the auspices that there would be some development. We are talking about translating this into jobs."

Sustain Blaine Executive Director Harry Griffith said that while the designation will result in a few direct jobs, mostly for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, the results of the designation would be to drive tourism.

"Maybe we could go from 70,000 Nordic skier days to 140,000 or 200,000," he said, adding that increased demand for services from those skiers could lead to more jobs for the north valley.

County Commissioner and board member Tom Bowman said he believed the designation would lead to some development, but possibly not in the areas Kirk was looking for.

"I see this just as putting us as a bigger spot on the map and getting people to move here," Bowman said. "We're going to have to trust that this will add to all of the other efforts out there."

The Sustain Blaine economic development group helped the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation and the Wood River Ability Project complete their applications for Olympic and Paralympic designation last June.

McConnell's visit falls in the middle of the weeklong Sun Valley Nordic Festival, an event featuring ski racing, demonstrations and the 32-kilometer Boulder Mountain Tour.

"It will be really good to bring her into Nordic world," Griffith said.

McConnell will miss the Boulder Mountain tour, which is set to take place on Feb. 4. Unfortunately, Griffith said, there is no way McConnell can stay for the race, due to time limitations.

Despite the limited time, Griffith said, McConnell would be given a chance to view most of the trail systems and facilities in the valley. Though an agenda has not yet been set, Griffith said she will likely visit the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation facilities, Sun Valley Co. trails, Galena Lodge and Blaine County Recreation District trails.

"I don't know, given the snow conditions, that we'll show her Quigley," Griffith said. "But we may show her the terrain."

McConnell will also meet with representatives from St. Luke's Wood River to gain an understanding of the health services that would be available to Olympic hopefuls.

Meetings with the Community School and the Sun Valley Ski Academy are also planned for McConnell's visit.

Katherine Wutz:

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