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For the week of Dec 26, 2001 - Jan 1, 2002


Tourism biz kicks into high gear

Snow aids projected soft season

Express Staff Writers

Hotels, restaurants and the Hailey airport hummed with activity late last week as last-minute tourists scrambled to arrange holidays in the Wood River Valley.

By Friday, vacant seasonal condos and hotel rooms were scarce. Shops were busy, and restaurant reservation books were quickly filling.

After a slow start to the winter season, "the good snow we got in December really started getting the phones ringing," said Carol Waller, executive director of the Ketchum/Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce.

At the end of November, businesses blamed terrorist attacks on the East Coast, a recession and no snow for a 30 to 50 percent reduction in Sun Valley tourist numbers for that month. But, now, the ski hill is thickly blanketed, and the tourism business appears to be nearly as good as it was in previous years.

"If we ever, ever needed early and abundant snow, this was the year," agreed Sturtevants Ski and Sports owner Rob Santa. "We need to be eternally grateful that December came in like a lion."

From the seasonís first major storm on Nov. 21 until Friday, the Ketchum Ranger District station recorded 77 inches of snow in Ketchum. During the same time last year, only 17 inches fell.

"As of yesterday, our number of guest stays was identical to last December," Don Jackson, marketing manager of Base Mountain Properties, said Friday.

The phones at the short-term condo rental companyís Ketchum office rang nonstop Friday afternoon with procrastinating tourists seeking accommodations.

Jackson said this year is different from previous years when people booked condos months in advance. This year, itís been a week to 30 days in advance.

The war in Afghanistan is over, Wall Street has brightened and there is snow in Sun Valley. "People are relieved and theyíre starting to travel," he said.

And in a tourist town, travel equals business.

Bob Gordon, owner of Formula Sports on Main Street in Ketchum, said his skiing goods business is on par with last yearís record December, and things are looking up as the holidays draw nearer.

"There are lots of families and familiar faces coming in," he said. "We expect a super busy holiday."

After informally polling business owners, Waller said early December was "a little soft" on the lodging and retail side, January and February "look decent," and March looks soft again.

"Thereís reason to be optimistic that it may not be as bleak as it could have been," she said.

Jack Sibbach, marketing director for Sun Valley Co., agrees. For Dec. 28 through Jan. 1, 90 percent of the resortís rooms were booked as of Friday.

"Usually, weíre 99 percent booked for that 10-day period," he said. "Itís not going to be great," but not as bad as it could have been.

Similarly, Chamber Marketing Director Carrie Schiller-Westergard said Christmas bookings through the chamberís central reservations office were between 80 and 85 percent.

"Thereís only sporadic availability for Christmas," she said.

There was perhaps no better place to see that business had picked up than at the airport Friday.

"Am I busy? Yes, I am," said Tracy Vangelden, supervisor of the SkyWest Airlines check-in desk. She didnít have exact numbers yet, but she thought that as many travelers were arriving for the holidays as in previous years.

"It looks like a normal Christmas," said airport manager Rick Baird. "Weíve got a terminal full of people and lots of corporates (jets) landing."


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.