Nordic option good for business

Locals know Jackson is more than just downhill skiing.

Letting the rest of the country know is the challenge.

Every year, Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce staffers hear the same thing from marketers and potential visitors, communications manager Kate Foster said.

“Everybody’s always asking, ‘What’s new, what’s new, what’s new?’’’ she said. “People are always looking for a new angle outside the downhill skiing.”

This winter, with the efforts of the Jackson Hole Nordic Alliance and its founder Nancy Leon, Foster and business boosters have a fresh answer: cross-country skiing.

Leon and her fellow Nordic skiing enthusiasts have worked during the past two years to create the buzz to market Jackson Hole as a premier cross-country ski destination.

“It’s a huge untapped market,” Leon said. “I think people here have taken for granted that we have world-class Nordic skiing and Nordic trails and we haven’t seen them as a tangible asset.”

In fact, even locally, Nordic skiing has been seen by many as a niche market filled completely and only by Skinny Skis, the downtown store specializing in Nordic and alpine touring gear, she said.

Skinny Skis was where Leon started when she went looking to find the valley’s Nordic community.

She found more than she was bargaining for.

“It’s amazing how the Nordic community is really vibrant,” she said. “There really is a lot of usage on our winter trails.”

In spite of that, Jackson Hole takes a backseat to mountain communities like Vail, Colo., and especially Sun Valley, Idaho, when it comes time for Nordic skiers to take a trip devoted to their favorite winter activity.

Sun Valley, which markets itself as “Nordic Skiers’ Shangri-La” on the town’s trip-planning site, has turned its cross-country reputation into a winter-season draw. Jackson Nordic enthusiasts estimate the Sun Valley Nordic industry brings in about $10 million a year. Certainly it’s the first destination that comes to mind when those who know tourism are asked about mountain west Nordic.

By comparison, Jackson Hole’s Nordic publicity traditionally has lagged behind, with few resources to locate the valley’s opportunities.

Without using Leon and the alliance’s most recent project — — it can take up to five clicks to as many websites to find some of the trails and events in the area. Others are apparently local secrets, with no other readily available presence on the web.

Providing information about Teton County’s various trails is step one to being able to offer Nordic skiing as a product, which is what the alliance is trying to do with, Leon said.

The site currently lists about 75 trails, all of which are within an hour’s drive of the town of Jackson. More trails are being added all the time as the word gets out to the wider Nordic community. The trails include skate ski and classic tracks.

“Even when I was trying to find people interested, it was a lot of word-of-mouth,” Leon said. “It was just ‘talk to so-and-so and talk to so-and-so’ and then you really found the places and the enthusiasm that was already there.

“Before you can get out and sort of market a place as a destination, you have to document what you have to offer,” she said.

You also have to provide a worthwhile experience when people decide to give it a try, she said.

With that in mind, the alliance plans to ask the Teton County Board of Commissioners in January to use alliance-raised funds to hire county personnel to groom the Nordic trails in Grand Teton National Park once a week. With the rocky year for federal funding, the park has to make road plowing a priority with its current staffing and equipment, Leon said.

The businesses involved — which range from Town Square stores including Skinny Skis and Teton Mountaineering to farther-flung rental locations like Dornan’s and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort — are enthusiastic at the chance to bring in new clientele.

For the Teton Pines Nordic Skiing Center, more people with an interest in learning the sport means more lessons, more rentals and more people using their days away from nearby Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to try out their groomed trails, said director Jack Bellorado.

“Having more people coming to the valley who want to cross-country ski is good for everybody,” Bellorado said “If they go here, it’s great, it’s good for business. If they go somewhere else it’s great, it’s good for business, because what it does is create a Nordic culture throughout the valley, something I’ve been trying to do on my own for 40 years.”

While Bellorado can offer only so many trails, he said he and his staff also can provide the knowledge and advice visitors need to get out on their own, as well as a warm place with a restaurant to make a day of it.

“People come in every day because they want to try something new,” he said. “What makes us different from other resort communities is our scenery and our wildlife. One of the best ways to [see] that is cross-country skiing. It makes sense for me and for the whole valley to put a focus on that.”

The business community as a whole is excited for the chance to turn another favorite area pastime into a draw for winter visitors.

“The Travel and Tourism Joint Powers Board already has the marketing focus that ‘there’s more to winter,’” Foster said. “Something like this really fits with the mindset that we have so much to offer.

“What’s exciting is that this is really a collaboration among so many businesses to be able to present a stronger product than they maybe had on their own,” she said.

This article appeared in the Jackson Hole News & Guide on December 31, 2013