Ski resorts make hay in the summer months

Participants in a yoga class at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming. The resort has around 600 employees on staff during the summer months compared to more than 1,600 in the winter, and the resort still plays an important role in the local economy in the summer. courtesy Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

The Jackson Hole Mountain Resort aerial tram “glides skyward 4,139 vertical feet” in just 12 minutes, according to the resort’s website. The summit offers “staggering 360-degree views of the Tetons, Jackson Hole valley and surrounding mountain ranges,” making tram rides a popular summer tourism activity. courtesy Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

Pink Martini performs at Sun Valley’s River Run Lodge in this summer 2017 photo. “Summers here are really big for us,” said Kelli Lusk, Sun Valley Resort’s public relations and communications director. Ray Gadd / Sun Valley Resort

A family enoys the Sun Valley Resort outdoor ice rink, which is open throughout the summer. Hillary Maybery / Sun Valley Resort

Winter is the bread and butter for many business in eastern Idaho and western Wyoming, in particular ski resorts.

With hundreds of employees overseeing the snow-covered operations, and tens of thousands of visitors annually, winter brings many jobs to the region and provides an unquestionable impact to the local economy.

But what happens when the temperature heats up and the powder melts off the slopes? For many area resorts, it’s flipping the switch to a summer season.

Hundreds of miles of biking and hiking trails dot the landscape of resorts such as Jackson Hole, Sun Valley, and Grand Targhee, offering the resorts an opportunity to continue operations year-round.

And this summer, a new face will join the area resorts in an effort to continue providing fun outdoor activities.

New kid on the block

For the first time in its 61-year history, Kelly Canyon Ski Resort is joining other area resorts in offering summer activities.

Dave Stoddard, co-owner at Kelly Canyon, said the biking community in eastern Idaho has been clamoring for years for the resort to open its trails to two-wheel enthusiasts. This summer, that dream will finally come to fruition.

“We’ve had a lot of people ask us to do something in the summer, and biking has grown so much in the area over the past decade,” Stoddard said. “This will be our first foray, and we’re excited about the potential.”

Kelly Canyon has been investigating the possibility of a summer season for many years. But its work with Specialized Bikes in developing, testing and promoting fat bikes at the resort during the winter served as the motivation to pursue summer activities.

“We figured that if we could do fat biking in the wintertime on snow, why don’t we build trails and do it year-round?” Stoddard said.

The resort hasn’t set a date for its summer opening, but expects to do so soon. Stoddard said trails are currently in phase two of a three-phase construction process and are nearing completion.

Bikers will be able to ride lift four to the top of the mountain with their bikes, or ride up the 1,000-foot vertical trail to the top. Trails will be classified similar to that of ski slopes, with beginner, intermediate and expert trails.

Kelly Canyon worked with a trail design company from British Columbia.

“We’ve followed what they put together for us and we built the trails ourselves, and even more,” Stoddard said.

Once open, Stoddard anticipates the resort to be in operation Thursdays through Saturdays, with limited hours Thursday and Friday and all-day access Saturday. Bike rentals also will be available.

The resort will operate with a skeleton crew of employees manning the rental shop and ticketing, operating a grill at the clubhouse, and operating the lifts. A crew of patrollers will also be on hand to assist riders with any injuries or concerns on the mountain.

Established summer fun

While Kelly Canyon is entering its inaugural summer season, several area resorts are already seasoned in the transition from winter to summer.

Anna Cole, communications director at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, said the summer season brings a different feel within resort operations.

“It’s quite a different need, in terms of staffing, with the variety of activities,” Cole said. “Our summer operations is smaller than winter, in terms of the number of employees we need. And the operating season in summer is just a bit different than winter. Winter’s still our bread and butter, in terms of how revenue contributes to our bottom line, but our summer is still a growing piece of the business.”

In summer, Jackson Hole offers a variety of activities, including its aerial tram to the top of the mountain, biking, hiking, a rope course, a bungee trampoline and more. Several of its lodges and restaurants also are open.

Cole said summer operations at the resort account for a smaller percent of its annual revenue, with around 600 employees on staff during these months compared to more than 1,600 in the winter. Still, it has become an important anchor in the local economy.

“In the Jackson Hole area, their busy season is already summer, unlike many other mountain towns which are more remote and quieter,” Cole said. “So we’re a little different in that regard, but we are providing jobs. And what’s great for our summer business is we can round out employment opportunities for our winter employees into the summer season as well.”

Other regional resorts also offer many activities during the summer season in an effort to provide jobs throughout the entire year.

Grand Targhee kicked off its summer season June 15. Jennie White, director of marketing at the resort, said two lifts are currently in operation for downhill biking, hiking, a kid’s camp and a number of other summer activities, including a nature center. Bars and restaurants at the resort are also operating throughout the summer.

“We’re fairly busy during the summer,” White said. “Obviously we’re not as busy as we are in the winter, but we’re definitely growing. After the Fourth of July, we definitely have some type of event every single weekend.”

Grand Targhee is hosting two music festivals as well during its summer months. Targhee Fest, featuring 14 bands over three days from July 13 through July 15, and the Bluegrass Festival from Aug. 10 through Aug. 12. The resort also hosts a large mountain biking festival Aug. 31 through Sept. 3.

In its 80-year history, Sun Valley Resort also has offered a number of summer activities. This helps the resort maintain year-round employment for its employees, a luxury at many ski resorts.

“We’ve had a year-round resort for the majority of the years we’ve been open,” said Kelli Lusk, public relations and communications director for Sun Valley. “So we’re always preparing when we’re ending one season, and even further out from that planning on projects.”

Differentiating from Grand Targhee and Jackson Hole, Lusk said Sun Valley actually sees more attendance at its resort throughout summer months, boasting its year-round outdoor activities such as an ice skating rink and several pools.

“We’re different than most resorts, but summers here are really big for us,” Lusk said. “That’s the bigger of the two seasons for us. We always tell people, ‘you come for the winter but stay for the summer.’ Summers here are really special and beautiful.”

Ultimately, summer seasons at area ski resorts provide not only tourism opportunities, but a boost to the local economy.

“There are so many things to do,” Lusk said. “It’s so energizing to have so many people coming into town during the peak of the winter and summer. It always adds a great energy to the community.”

Reporter Marc Basham can be reached at 208-542-6763.