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Small mountains have a big impact in Idaho

Bill Jennings

When it comes to ski areas, Idaho is blessed. The state has 18 ski areas distributed in all corners of the state and in between. When it comes to economic impact, destination resorts such as Sun Valley, Schweitzer and Grand Targhee (a member of Ski Idaho) may get most of the attention. But in most of the state, small community hills may make a more significant difference.

Like everywhere else in the country these days, jobs aren’t that easy to find in Idaho. In rural areas, finding work is especially hard. Perhaps ski areas have never been more important than they are now to address this need.

“It is important to appreciate the significant economic impact that ski areas have on rural communities,” said Dave Byrd, Director of Education and Risk for the National Ski Areas Association, based in Lakewood, Colo. “The vast majority of ski areas – especially in Idaho – are situated in the mountain in rural areas, and the resorts are the economic engines for these rural communities.”

I looked for evidence to support Byrd’s claim. Alivia Body, regional economist with the Idaho Department of Labor, dug into her data and forwarded me some interesting statistics. My hill, Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area, is in rural Shoshone County, which we share with Silver Mountain Resort. Lookout Pass underwent significant expansions in 2003 and 2008. In 2003 ski industry employment in Shoshone County rose 31 percent from the year before and total employment rose 3 percent. In 2008 ski industry employment in Shoshone County rose 29.1 percent and total employment rose 3.6 percent.

The employment trends gleaned by Body suggest that the long-range master plan in play at Lookout Pass bodes well for the employment picture in Shoshone County. Since its current owners, Lookout Associates LLC, took control in 1999, the ski area has tripled in size. This surge in growth was just a prelude. Phase one of Lookout’s future expansion, currently in the planning stages with the U.S. Forest Service, has the potential to extend skiing and riding to an additional peak and nearly double the size of the resort’s current skiable acreage. Lookout’s accessibility, affordability – and fantastic snow – will remain.

In addition to jobs, rural Idaho ski areas such as Lookout, Lost Trail, Soldier Mountain, Pomerelle, Pebble Creek, Bald Mountain, Cottonwood Butte and Snowhaven support the big destinations in the Idaho ski industry at the grass roots level. In an era of luxury resort real estate, expensive lift tickets and high speed lifts, our accessibility to working families, low prices and laid back atmosphere serve as an incubator for skiers and riders who eventually become customers at the bigger mountains.

Idaho is indeed blessed with ski areas. This winter, consider experiencing skiing and riding the way it used to be – and the way it should be. Visit one of Idaho’s classic family hills that provide jobs where they’re needed most … and keep the skiing and riding experience in reach for everyone.

This column was written by Bill Jennings, marketing director at Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area near Mullan. For more information, visit www.skilookout.com.

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