Sunday, September 27, 2009

Resorts Keep Access Affordable for Locals

Until recently, many Sandpoint residents believed the paradise in which they live was a well-kept secret. But with local resorts such as the Idaho Club – a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course – and Schweitzer Mountain Ski Resort receiving national attention, the secret is getting out. And residents fear their year-round playground will soon become too expensive for many locals to afford.

When the Idaho Club first opened, many Sandpoint residents found the membership fee cost-prohibitive. There were grumblings among many that these resorts were becoming too expensive for those working and living in this area.

People spoke of possible solutions, among them giving discounts to local residents. This suggestion has been offered by the committee working on the Buy Local campaign in Sandpoint to businesses throughout Bonner County – spend money locally to reinvest in the community and keep friends and neighbors employed.

But Idaho Club owner Chuck Reeves said it was never the intent of the Idaho Club to be completely private. That is the reason that this summer it opened tee times to nonmembers and offered discounts to Bonner County residents.

“The business model for the Idaho Club has always contemplated outside, nonmember play on the course,” Reeves said. “As part of our real estate component, we have lodge homes that owners may place in a rental program with the club. Because of this, the golf course is not entirely private and probably never will be.”

Before 11 a.m. the course is open only to members of the Idaho Club, but from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. this summer Bonner County residents were charged $110 plus tax for a round of golf, as opposed to $125 that was charged to nonresidents. From 2 to 4 p.m. the rate went down to $65 for Bonner County residents while nonresidents paid $80. Since Labor Day, the twilight rate begins at 1 p.m.

“It’s really a good-neighbor policy,” said Idaho Club director Mike Deprez, adding that the new fee schedule was popular with Bonner County residents.

Schweitzer resort offers discounts
People are hoping that Schweitzer Mountain Resort follows the path paved by the Idaho Club.

But Tom Chasse, CEO of Schweitzer Mountain Resort, said that while there are no plans to make such an offering exclusive to Bonner County residents, the resort offers special rates throughout the season and gives back to the community in many ways.

“If there is any rate decrease, why just limit it to Bonner County?” said Chasse, adding that to do so would limit the reach of its services and what it can do for the community of Sandpoint.

A Day for Heather is an annual event during which Schweitzer sells $10 lift tickets all day. This year the event is scheduled for Dec. 11, and all the proceeds generated that day are donated to a local nonprofit organization that benefits cancer patients.

“Imagine if we limited the rate for Day for Heather (to Bonner County residents),” said Chasse.

Schweitzer hosts other events throughout the year that benefit other local organizations, such as the Rotary.

In a further effort to give back to the community, Schweitzer opens the mountain on Friday and Saturday evenings from 3 to 7 beginning each January and sells lift tickets to local groups for $4. The groups then sell them to the public, with the profits going to help their organizations.

Chasse points out there is a large advantage to offering reduced rates beyond the borders of Bonner County.

“Our job in the winter time is to get people to the area who can take advantage of all that Sandpoint has to offer,” said Chasse.

While the Idaho Club and Schweitzer Mountain may take a different approach, both in their own way are giving back to the community, helping to stimulate the local economy and, most importantly, keeping Bonner County’s playgrounds affordable.

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