Mountain News 

Ketchum gets introspective

By Allen Best

Ketchum perplexed about loss of tourism economy

KETCHUM, Idaho –Ketchum’s introspection about its future continues. Although it is North America’s first destination ski resort, skier days at Sun Valley have been flat, even declining, during the last several decades. The tourism economy more generally has been flat.

“When you talk to business owners around town, you will find a consensus that the town is not sleepy, but that it is comatose,” writes Rick Kessler, a 33-year resident of the town.

“One doesn’t need a lot of statistics to know that year-round residents are an endangered species, that business is down, that activity in town is way down, and the spirit of this community is slowly being crushed,” he writes in the Idaho Mountain Express.

Some have blamed the erosion of hotel beds, some 320 in just the last four years. Developers have wanted, and received, permission for a hotel that would combine for-sale units with the so-called “hot” beds available for rental, similar to what is being offered in most destination resorts of the West. They also want to go higher, a trend also found in nearly all other destination resorts.

The town has conceded the new real-estate component, but not necessarily the height. Kessler thinks opposition is a knee-jerk reaction to change. “We’re just too damned used to things being as they were.”

What is at the core of Ketchum, he says, is not the physical structure, but the people. “The heart, soul and character of this town consist of the people who live, work and visit here.” A five-storey hotel, he adds, will not “change the character of the people who live and work here.”

Ketchum, he says, should “quit treating all developers as fly-by-night hucksters. People who are betting $60 million on a project are going to have to work very hard to ensure its success.”

But another view comes from Milton Adam. Also writing in the Idaho Mountain Express, he argues that “additional hotel rooms will not magically bring customers that never came before.”

He brings evidence that Ketchum and Sun Valley, compared with other resort areas, have far less lodging occupancy than other resorts. Summer occupancy is highest, at 57 per cent, and winter is at 54 per cent — far below most other major ski resorts in the West.

Another number-crunching exercise shows Vail and Beaver Creek had 554 skier days per accommodation unit, followed by Aspen-Snowmass at 356, Steamboat at 299, and Ketchum-Sun Valley at 289.

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