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In Jackson, it's not only about downhill

Jan 6, 2014 - By Emma Breysse, For the Associated Press

JACKSON -- 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 bargained 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'stime 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 -- JHNordic.com -- 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 JHNordic.com, 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.

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