It’s no secret that ski towns across America are in trouble. Articles about a crisis of affordable workforce housing in towns like Breckenridge and Vail began appearing years ago in magazines such as Powder, Outside, and SKI. And Sun Valley is no different. Problems in the area around affordable workforce housing, development, and town growth became exacerbated after COVID with an influx of remote “Zoom” workers moving to town. These issues are a major focus on Ketchum’s upcoming mayoral election, an election at a time when the town is at a major crossroads. Several candidates have thrown their hats in the ring, each promising to address the issues with their own special brand of skills. But perhaps the best person to run a ski town?
A skier. … Or snowboarder, that is.
A born and bred local, 33-year-old Spencer Cordovano says he has been shaped by every facet of Ketchum, from the jobs he held as a teen (working for Allen & Co. and refereeing local soccer games) to shredding Baldy on the local snowboard team to running his own business. While some might think of Cordovano as the “underdog” in this mayoral race, they might be be wise to think again.
“I think the main thing we need in a mayor is someone who’s very connected to this community, and that skill set cannot be taught or bought; it has to be bred into you,” says Cordovano. “The number one skill set that I think we need in a mayor is to have his finger on the pulse of the community and more than any other candidate in the race, I do.”
Cordovano’s 15 minutes of fame came from starring in the cult ski film “GNAR,” a poster of which hangs in his office in downtown Ketchum. Being a snowboarder has had a great influence on Cordovano’s worldview. After receiving a full ride scholarship for academics and athletics to Sierra Nevada College, Cordovano competed at the national level in snowboarding competitions while getting a degree in environmental science. By the time he graduated (cum laude), he had reached his goal of becoming an FIS Junior World Snowboard Team Member. His years of competing took him to 75 resorts across the U.S. as well as resorts in Switzerland, Canada, South America, and Italy. “I’m a mountain town expert,” says Cordovano.
In addition to his lifetime-local and background as a professional snowboarder, Cordovano carries more skills: after graduating college and returning home, Cordovano embarked on different projects and jobs including working with Smith Optics on a web series (a job that required managing snow safety; logistics of backcountry yurt rentals and hosting professional athletes on a weekly basis); sampling and studying the water in lakes through the Sawtooth Valley; building homes (and receiving his LEED certification); and starting his own business eight years ago, F11 films. The company’s client roster includes Dropbox, Fat Tire, Ford Motor, and local clients like Visit Sun Valley and the Sun Valley Film Festival.
“I’m a self-employed freelancer with the freedom to travel the globe at my will. But I’ve been struggling, just like many Ketchumites, and I feel that taking action on behalf of my town is more important than the comfort of my current job. It’s important to me to ensure our town isn’t led behind closed doors or caters to the needs of Wall Street,” says Cordovano.
Like many who grew up in Ketchum, Cordovano thought about leaving the area and “not dealing with this (expletive)” — but living in Ketchum provides experiences that can’t be had anywhere else, whether it’s hiking a peak with someone whose grandfather pioneered a route on Everest or getting your kids trained by ski team coaches who have coached numerous Olympians on the local mountain.
“Ketchum is not nearly as far gone as every other mountain town,” says Cordovano. “We will lead the nation in mountain town economics, and we will figure this out. I’m not running for mayor to fix potholes. I’m running for mayor because this is a huge conversation and a platform to take my voice way further than this town. I want to incorporate Ketchum’s history into its future.”
Cordovano’s mayoral platform centers around “creativity, collaboration, and community.” In terms of creativity, he wants to look at the problems that Ketchum has been dealing with in a new light.
“People that know the building code and have worked in Planning & Zoning for 10 years have this can’t, no, and won’t attitude. I’m not a dreamer; I know it’s going to be hard. But we need to look at things more creatively. It’s 2021 and high time to incorporate global solutions into our historic small town. I’m talking about rooftop gardens, underground parking, pedestrian bridges, murals, and enhanced public spaces.”
In terms of collaboration, Cordovano aims to draw upon one of Ketchum’s biggest resources: its people. Some of the world’s top CEOs, athletes, architects, money managers, entrepreneurs, and more call themselves locals.
“I do not have the answer to everything — but I have the cellphone number to somebody that can provide me the insight that I need.”
And lastly, community — the heart and soul of Ketchum. This is where Cordovano really shines on his love for his hometown.
“Ketchum is one of the last great ski towns in America. This community is so rad. Let’s find ways to make sure it stays that way.”
For more on Cordovano’s mayoral candidacy, visit spencer4mayor.com.