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Good December snow conditions brought skiers to Baldy and shoppers to Ketchum.

Strong sales from mid-December through early January helped mitigate a slow November and early December, Ketchum retailers told the Express, and a booming New Year’s crowd helped lessen the blow from a later-than-normal Thanksgiving.

“Sales seemed somewhat slower until about the week of Christmas, but overall averaged out to be about the same as last December,” Lost River Outfitters Sales Associate James Weatherholtz said. “[Sales] were pretty consistent right around Christmas and we definitely saw a lot more tourists this year.”

To help ease the transition into peak season, Weatherholtz said, management brought several former employees on board.

“We had a few people who don’t normally work come and help out,” he said.

Doug Yeates, co-owner of PK’s Ski and Sports, said his shop usually doubles its staff between Dec. 15 and Jan. 5 to accommodate more shoppers. He also seconded Weatherholtz’s observation of a slower early December and attributed that to a later Thanksgiving—Nov. 28, as opposed to Nov. 22 in 2018—and little snowfall in November to motivate shoppers.

“As a weather-dependent business, we can’t bring as many people into the shop without a ton of snow. Last year’s [sales] were more out of necessity, an ‘I need a new coat’ type of thing, while this year we had more browsers,” Yeates said. “And with a later [Baldy] opening I would say we saw fewer people in town in early December, but still had a lot of local families coming in to get geared up.”

Yeates said the way Christmas and New Year’s Day fell on the calendar helped extend the season and boost earnings.

“With both holidays lining up on Wednesdays, I noticed was an extra wave of people coming into town and a really strong pre-Christmas and post-New Year’s crowd,” he said.

Despite a slow and unseasonably warm November, Yeates said, earnings had balanced out as of Jan. 6. He also hopes to see an influx of EPIC passholders, he said.

“The EPIC pass should help bring more people into town in January and February—we should see that bump,” he said. “We’ve heard from a number of passholders that they’re planning to visit later in the season after we get more snow.”

Backwoods Mountain Sports Manager Keith Anspach observed a similar number of tourists in December compared to 2018 and also reported a strong holiday season.

“Thankfully, snow came and we were ramped up through the holidays,” he said. “October was exceptional, with extra snowfall and cold weather, but November didn’t give us much. Without much snow, our sales were pretty soft through Thanksgiving.”

Jacob Frehling, owner of Maude’s Coffee and Clothes, said the store “learned its lesson” from 2017 and 2018 and decided to close down for the last two weeks of November.

“November is statistically and emotionally the worst month—it’s just the pits, so [closing] was the right move for us,” he said. “December was great, though. We had a slow crawl up to Christmas but with the holidays falling later in the week, it added a few days onto the season, which was very beneficial.”

Frehling also noted a robust post-New Year’s crowd.

“The post-New Year’s rush was great. I saw a lot of first-time visitors from the EPIC pass, which was very cool, and people stuck around longer this year—sales didn’t die down on Jan. 2 like they often do,” he said.

Ben Allen, a sales associate and ski instructor at Galena Lodge, observed an impressive New Year’s crowd.

“We didn’t have much going on between Thanksgiving and the holidays, but we had a great New Year’s rush,” he said.

Allen added that given the lodge’s remote location, good road conditions meant more visitors.

“When the roads are bad it affects us. They usually don’t plow between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m., so it takes a bit to clear the roads and for us to get going,” he said.

Compared to 2018, Ketchum’s overall local-option tax collection in November rose 5.4 percent, from $149,821 to $157,887. The category of “other retail receipts,” which excludes room receipts, condo receipts and liquor receipts, showed a 3.4 percent increase in 2019, up $3,886 from $97,552 in 2018.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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