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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, April 28, 2004


Sun Valley growth outpaces 2 rivals

Still, ski industry poses challenges

Express Staff Writer

In recording a modest increase in skier days this winter, Sun Valley Resort outpaced two of its primary ski-industry competitors.

The news was certainly positive for the resort, which last year experienced its lowest skier count since the 1991-1992 season.

However, news from ski areas outside of Idaho this week almost singularly points to one simple fact: Sun Valley Co. will have to work diligently to maintain or increase its share of the ski-resort market.

Sun Valley during the 2003-2004 season recorded 384,897 skier days. The figure is an approximately 5 percent increase over the 365,267 skier days recorded at the resort during the 2002-2003 season.

A skier day represents one person skiing or snowboarding at a mountain resort for any part of a day.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort—one of Sun Valley’s chief competitors, located west of Jackson, Wyo.—reported a total of 373,093 skier days, a decrease of 40 skier visits from the previous year.

The 2003-2004 ski season was the fourth consecutive season that Jackson Hole did not reach or surpass its record of 391,000 skier days, set in 1999-2000. Jackson Hole marketing executives had set a target of 400,000 skier days this year.

Sun Valley recorded its highest skier count ever in 1981-1982, when just over 475,000 skier days were tallied.

Park City Mountain Resort, the prominent Utah ski area that also competes with Sun Valley, this winter recorded a 3 percent increase in skier days over last year.

"We certainly think that it was a very good year," said Krista Rowles, the resort’s public relations manager.

Park City Mountain Resort is a privately held company that does not release its skier-day numbers, Rowles noted.

In Colorado, where big-name resorts typically record skier-day totals that dwarf most others in the industry, the 2003-2004 season appears to be finishing strong.

Despite experiencing difficulties in March from excessively warm weather—as did Sun Valley—Aspen Skiing Co. is reporting that its skier-day count will be ahead of 2002-2003.

"It looks like we’ll end up slightly ahead of last year," said Jeff Hanle, Aspen Skiing Co. communications manager.

Aspen in 2002-2003 had more than 1.3 million skier days on its four ski mountains.

Colorado resorts in 2002-2003 recorded 11.6 million skier days, which made up 20 percent of the country's record 57.6 million ski resort visits.

Although most Colorado ski areas have closed for the season, none of the resorts will release specific skier-day totals until May.

With final numbers still undetermined, the Colorado-based National Ski Areas Association is estimating that the nationwide skier count for the 2003-2004 season will be between 55 million and 56 million.

Both Hanle of Aspen and Rowles of Park City said abundant snowfall—particularly early in the season—helped boost skier visits.

Park City received 469 inches of snow this past season. Aspen Mountain, Hanle said, received 300 inches of snow, while nearby Snowmass Mountain recorded 317 inches.

However, Jack Sibbach, Sun Valley Co. director of sales and marketing, said snow accumulation is only one factor of many that influence skier-day counts.

The national economy and perceived threats to transportation-related security have, with weather, been major factors for Sun Valley, he said.

And, despite the temptations to measure Sun Valley’s success against its competitors, Sibbach said the resort does not do so.

"We don’t try to compare ourselves to other resorts," he said. "We are different than most of these other places."

Sibbach said because Sun Valley is a year-round resort that owns and operates an assortment of restaurants, businesses and hotels, it places a high degree of emphasis on operations apart from the two ski mountains.

Sibbach said an overall decrease in hotel rooms in the Sun Valley area in recent years has certainly hurt skier-day numbers.

"I think it’s important we get another hotel in this valley," he said.

Sun Valley Co. is apparently banking on the concept that more hotel rooms and vacation rentals could foster wider success for the resort.

A 50-year master plan released by company officials this month calls for two new hotels in Sun Valley Village and another luxury hotel at the base of Bald Mountain.

Nevertheless, new development might not guarantee a spike in resort visitors.

The decline at Jackson Hole this season was concurrent with the opening of a new $225 million Four Seasons Resort at the ski area base village.


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