This is the face of Sun Valley Ski Patrol you probably recognize — one of uniformed, highly capable men and women keeping you safe on Baldy and Dollar. Ski Patrol boasts a team of more than 50, including firefighters and paramedics, explosives experts, mountaineers and some of the fittest, most determined, most amazing skiers on the map. I love seeing Ski Patrol on the hill, which I do numerous times each day I am up there. Just a glimpse of their jackets makes me feel safe and cared for.
Here is another face of Sun Valley Ski Patrol, one that makes me feel safer yet. Yesterday, under a typical Idaho bluebird sky, three weeks before the slopes officially open to the public, members of Ski Patrol were preparing for any and every inevitability. Like the safety announcement made before a plane taxis down the runway, Ski Patrol has to consider many “in the unlikely events,” including gondola evacuation.
The methodology? Climb a tower carrying a 10-pound titanium “cable glider.” Position the wheels of said cable glider onto the high wire. Clip in and attach yourself in about 20 different ways. Do not tangle your ropes. Swing your body onto a small bike seat. Release the brake and “ride” down the cable to the first gondola car. Unhook. Evacuate occupants. Repeat.
When Mike Lloyd and Mike Davis of Ski Patrol explain the process, they make it sound quite matter-of-fact. From below the tower, looking up to the platform dozens of feet overhead, surrounded by the stunning panorama of mountains, to me, it looks intimidating at best. But that’s why they are the pros.
The pros featured in these photos are ‘Whiz’ McNeal and Troy Quesnel, who both look forward to this training. “The Patrol does this drill a few times each year and they like to get as many ‘touches’ on the equipment as possible,” said Lloyd. “Everyone gets to practice riding, belaying, climbing, opening the doors. It’s a great time to get hands on and make sure it becomes second nature.”
Rest assured, all these skills do become second nature to Ski Patrol. The gondola training exercise is only one of many that go on year-round. Ski Patrol’s motto is “Haulin’ the Fallin’ since 1936.” I guess a list of all the other things they do doesn’t rhyme.
When you see a Patrol member on the slopes, be sure to give him or her a big smile. They are there for you and are, collectively, some of the nicest people in Sun Valley.
And they know how to evacuate you from a gondola – bonus!
Baby Sun, enjoying frolicking in front of the Roundhouse, is definitely in the Waiting For Winter To End camp. Which one are you?
Sun Valley: Come for the winter, stay for the summer. This well-known valley phrase neatly sums up the schizophrenic nature of existence in a resort town. Life in Sun Valley has always been separated into two distinct seasons: winter and not-winter, and the people who live here fall into one of two camps: “Waiting for Winter” or “Waiting for Winter to End.”
Baby Sun marvels at the approaching mountain
I’m in the latter camp. I love summer in Sun Valley, and the fact that it comes after 7 to 8 months of a frigid, snowy landscape makes it all the better in my book. The only downside is there just isn’t enough time to do everything a Sun Valley summer has to offer before that cold white stuff rolls back in.
Despite the vast differences between our two seasons, there is one thing they have in common. Neither is officially here until the Gondola starts to climb Bald Mountain.
Last Friday marked the official start of the Sun Valley summer, and Mr. Sun and I took the little tykes for their first ride on the Gondola. (I must admit shamefacedly that this was my first ride on the Gondola too – if you want to know why I’ve been so bad, ask me in the comments section below!).
Little Sun was thrilled to get in “the big elevator to the sky” but was disappointed to learn that skiing was not to be a part of this excursion. On the ride up he kept pointing out all the areas where he loves to ski (he’s 4 and so far has only showed off his skiing prowess on Dollar, but clearly he’s already a Waiting for Winter-valleyite). Baby Sun was transfixed, as was I, by the views of the surrounding landscape as we rode in comfortable luxury to an altitude of 7,700 ft, arriving in a few short minutes at the doors of the country’s oldest ski lodge, The Roundhouse.
Once at our destination, we headed for the most family-friendly spot in the 73 year old lodge, settling into Averell’s Bar for some light libations in front of a breathtaking view.
Little Sun welcomes Baby Sun to the mountaintop lifestyle
While it is clearly in its element as a curious capsule transporting skiers to their ultimate destination, riding the state-of-the-art Doppelmayr CTEC Detachable-Grip Gondola in the summertime is a new Sun Valley tradition. Whether you’re seeking a thrilling mountain bike ride, a challenging day of hiking or a moonlit dining spot, a ride to the top should definitely be part of your summer Sun Valley Bucket list.
Although conceived as a winter resort in 1935, Sun Valley is so perfect in the summertime I think it gives winter a run for its money as the season to come here for. What do you think? Which camp are you in? Waiting for Winter or Waiting for Winter to End? Tweet us @SunValleyResort or post a comment below.
Details: The Gondola travels from River Run Plaza. From there the top of Baldy is accessible by a quad lift. First ride up is 9 am and the last ride down is 4:30 pm. Ticket prices are here. Mountain biking opens June 30. The Roundhouse serves lunch from 11:30 – 3 pm, with lighter fare available from 3 – 4 pm. Lunch is first-come, first-served, reservations are required for dinner (served Friday and Saturday beginning this Friday, 208.622.2012). Each adult gondola pass receives a $10 coupon for lunch at the Roundhouse.
This is the time of the year when everyone’s favorite mountain, Baldy, gets packed! Lines are long, slopes are filled, it is hard to find a seat on the deck at Warm Springs Lodge and, suddenly, your friends’ red and blue jackets start looking just like everyone else’s red and blue jackets.
So just how are you supposed to find your friends in a sea of skiers, snowboarders, revelers, families, ski lessons and groups of ski-teamers? Not everyone has bright colored jackets like me (I swear, my favorite pink and green jacket can be spotted on Baldy miles away!), no one really uses walkie-talkies anyone (though if you did, we think it’s awesome!), and sometimes it is just too cold to take your gloves off and dig through your pockets for your cell phone.
So we have complied a few tips on just how to stay together on the mountain, the best places to meet on the mountain, and a few safety tips for skiing or boarding in groups.
1. Plan ahead. Knowing when and where you are going to meet your group is the first step towards success. Be specific in your planning. Instead of saying, "Meet you at the top around eleven," try something more specific (and less mainstream) like: "Meet you at the top of Seattle Ridge at 11:15."
Plan ahead with a specific time and location to make sure everybody meets up on top and in the right place
2. Watch the clock. There are several clocks strategically placed in every lift line. Watch for the big blue signs with maps on them, the clocks are on there too. There are also clocks at the top of the mountain and the top of Seattle Ridge. Being on time will help your group meet up easier!
3. Stand BELOW the slow sign. If you and your fam gets split up on a run, or if you decide to meet halfway down, the best place to wait for the slower part of the crew is right BELOW one of the big, orange slow signs. Most skiers and riders work to avoid those signs anyway, so you will be out of their way and it also provides you a little protection, just in case.
4. Move away from the lift! If you are meeting friends at the top of the mountain, whatever you do, DO NOT stand right where you got off. Many other skiers and riders will be getting off the lift before your friends get there, and if you are standing right in the way, it is a recipe for a disaster (or at least one or two pile-ups).
5. The best place to meet:Warm Springs Side: The Warm Springs Bridge (located right at the end of the Challenger lift line, just past Warm Springs Lodge). An old stand-by for groups of skiers and riders to meet up, the Warm Springs Bridge is almost a tradition of its own. Locals and tourists alike can be heard on a Friday night at Grumpy’s saying"Meet you on the Bridge at nine tomorrow." Just be sure not to confuse it with the River Run Bridge!
Looking towards the firepit at River Run Base Lodge
6. The best place to meet: River Run Side: The fire pit. River Run Lodge is huge and there are plenty of places to meet your group from the bear statue to the fireplace inside to the first ski rack, but our favorite place to meet, and warm up some chilly fingers, is the fire pit. Located right near the bottom of the gondola, you are sure not to miss this one and you can warm up and meet new friends while you wait.
7. If Meeting up enroute, stand BELOW the slow sign. If you and your fam (or larger group) gets split up on a run, or if you decide to meet halfway down, the best place to wait for the slower part of the crew is right BELOW one of the big orange slow signs. Most skiers and riders work to avoid those signs anyway, so you will be out of their way and it also provides you a little protection, just in case.
8. Move to the side of the slope! There are some long runs and some long cat tracks on Baldy, so if you and your crew get split up on Lower College or at the end of Hershey Highway and you are going to wait for them to catch up, be sure to move to the side of the run. Standing in the middle of any run can be dangerous for you and other skiers!
9. The best place to meet:Seattle Ridge. If your 13 year-old cousin doesn’t want to watch the Broncos game with you inside the Seattle Ridge Lodge while you wait for the rest of the family, the best place to meet on Seattle Ridge is outside the Lodge on the Lower Level. This not only keeps you out of the way of the lift and other skiers, but it provides easy access to the bathrooms and water, without going up or down any stairs!
10. The best place to meet:Top of the mountain. Lots of groups get together at the top and with the Lookout Lodge, three lifts and one cat track all converging in one area, it can get pretty hectic. Tell your friends to meet you by the big blue sign (the one with a map and a clock), or even a little lower, down by the Ski Patrol Shack. But try to stay out of the way of the snowboarder’s Strap-Up area.
11. Carry a map! Baldy can seem big and confusing, especially to a first-time visitor. So be sure to carry a mountain map with you at all times, that way if your group gets separated, at least you can figure out where you are and where you want to be! Also, the Sun Valley guest service folks (the friendly skiers and boarders in bright yellow jackets) are incredibly helpful; so don’t be afraid to ask. There are also some pretty sweet Smartphone apps with resort maps that can come in pretty handy!
Skiing and boarding is all about fun. Enjoying bluebird skis and hopefully some fresh powder with your family and friends. So be patient and kind to your fellow Baldy-lovers! A little karma goes a long way!
Why leave the mountain after skiing? Sun Valley has all kinds of aprs options, from the Warm Springs base to Lookout at the top of Baldy. Take an inside peek into these local drinking holes.
At Lookout Lodge. Getting ready to bomb to the bottom!!
LOOKOUT LODGE (9 am – 3:30 pm):
With its low beams, leather booths and etched glass, Lookout Restaurant is truly a throwback. Unlike the more Tyrolean Roundhouse or the stately River Run base lodge, Lookout has a neighborly vibe, establishing it as the "other" classic spot for regulars to lunch or aprs on the mountain. Need a quiet corner to nurse a tall boy and rest those legs? Or maybe the powder is fresh and speed the priority? Either way Lookout has you covered: food and beer are served quickly and there are rarely crowds. Located at the top of Baldy, it is Sun Valley’s peaceful aprs-ski perch.
Crowd: Anyone looking to avoid the rush of other lodges. Regulars include ski patrol, lifties and locals in the know. Lovers of elegant washrooms: Lookout will meet your marble standards.
Specials: Beer pairing is simple: order anything to pair with the unbeatable fish tacos. The purest aprs meal, however, is the Kobe beef slider (think sake-infused beef).
Noteworthy: Come mid-March, Lookout sets up an outdoor grill, complete with sunshine and beer coolers. Remember that peaceful December pilsner in the corner? Last year’s crowds grew into the hundreds…. Let’s aprs, bro!
RIVER RUN BASE LODGE (8 am – 6 pm)
Ahhhh, it’s the last ski run of the day–you are schusshing down Baldy with the beautiful River Run Lodge in sight. You can almost hear the wine corks popping and beer bottles clanking. River Run Lodge has a happening aprs vibe with live music offered on most weekends and holidays and a fabulous outdoor fire pit sitting area to meet new friends or catch up with old chums.
Crowd: Happy people of all ages, from locals to visitors, who just went skiing or boarding at America’s original destination resort!
Specials: Sipping tall boys of Pabst Blue Ribbon at the base of Baldy is one of life’s finer moments for some SVM staffers and fans.
Specials: The aprs scene is a classic mix of local and visitors (season lockers are upstairs) and many a special event has been staged at the River Run Lodge. Don’t miss the the afternoon spring scene or fire pit outside beside the gondola.
Noteworthy: Home to the original chairlift on Baldy and, as old-timers will tell you, to a single chairlift until the 1960s, River Run is now serviced by an 1,800-passengers-per-hour gondola which was the largest Doppelmayr project in North America when built in 2009.
SEATTLE RIDGE LODGE (9:30 am – 2:30 pm)
A quintessential mountain retreat, the Seattle Ridge lodge is massive, impeccably detailed and downright warm. What’s incredible about Seattle Ridge is that it has no secrets: sunshine and gourmet meals play on repeat. The fireplaces are always roaring, heating nearby boots and gloves, and the views only change with the seasons. Enjoy early aprs with friends (the lodge closes at 2:30) while gazing out on Hailey, Bellevue, the Pioneer Mountains and the surrounding lower valleys.
Crowd: Skiers, boarders and occasionally that guy who mono-skis. Literally the whole family. According to many, Seattle Ridge is "the place to be seen." If there’s a celebrity on the mountain, he or she will likely stop by this Sun Valley landmark for lunch at some point.
Specials: Do yourself a huge favor and try the mouth-watering prime rib. Don’t forget the pitcher of beer!
Noteworthy: Behind the beautiful log construction of Seattle Ridge were teams of helicopters that flew up and down the mountain delivering giant timber.
The SVM Staff enjoying apres at Averell's
AVERELL’S BAR – ROUNDHOUSE (11 am – 4 pm, last call 4:30 pm):
Quite possibly the quintessential spot for aprs skiing in Sun Valley, Averell’s Bar is located halfway up Bald Mountain on the lower level of the historic Roundhouse Lodge. The octagonal building is filled with loving reminders of Sun Valley’s glory days and Averell’s (named after Sun Valley’s founder, Averell Harriman) hosts the Valley’s most majestic views of the Wood River Valley and Pioneer Mountains. Originally opened in 1940 along with Baldy’s first chairlift, Averell’s reopened in 2010 and not many people even knew the room existed after it had spent nearly a decade as a storage locker wasting those breathtaking views.
Crowd: Frequented by movie stars, housewives, Olympians, regular Joes, tourists and the un-or underemployed, Averell’s will surely leave an imprint as it offers a stroll down memory lane.
Specials: The cheese fondue for two (or more) is tough to top and they offer a solid beer and wine selection. SVM staff is known for making major editorial decisions while enjoying beer and fondue at Averell’s.
Noteworthy: Averell’s announces last call to ski down by ringing the bell at 4:30 pm. The last gondola back down departs at 4:45 pm. Dinner at 7,700 feet is a special event (open Thursday-Sunday from 6 – 9 pm), reservations required, call 208.622.2800.
WARM SPRINGS LODGE (8 am – 4 pm):
The bar is small, but the view is huge. The drinks are cute ("Hot Apple Pie"), but they pack a punch. The lodge at Warm Springs does big and little things, and it does them all well. The lodge itself is magnificent, the perfect place to end a long day on the mountain. The famous cookie bell, almost unseen, nonetheless rings loudly enough to produce an even noisier scuttling of tiny boots to the kitchen. Find a seat facing the vaulted windows, grab a pint of the Stone IPA, and wait for the youngsters to return with Sun Valley’s greatest aprs snack.
Crowd: Residents of the Edelweiss and groups of all sizes parked at Warm Springs. Weary parents. A few years ago I also spotted Tim Allen on the patio.
Specials: The creative and very seasonal "Warm Ups" menu features drinks such as the "B-52" (coffee liqueur, Irish cream and orange cognac) and the "Nutty Irishman" (hazelnut liqueur, Irish cream and vanilla flavored vodka). Small cups of bar pretzels are on the house.
Noteworthy: The aprs crowd at Warm Springs follows the sun, meaning the scene heats up, literally and figuratively, after the holidays. By President’s Weekend, Warm Springs definitely secures the end-of-day "scene." Weather permitting, bands will play regularly outside. Nothing goes better with chocolate chip cookies than live music.
>> Check the Sun Valley website all season for more information on events/specials at Lookout, Seattle Ridge, Warm Springs and the mountain’s other lodges!
“The Monument Plant is a tall, narrow, cone-shaped plant with flowers clustered around the upper part of its stem. The plants live for many years, blooms only once and then dies. Flowering is unpredictable, but seems related to moisture,” according to Idaho Mountain Wildflowers – Earle. Some think it is on a seven year cycle. This year, the monument plant seems to be everywhere. We are seeing it in the middle of the upper runs, such as Holiday, Exhibition and Olympic. If you look out the window as you are riding up the Gondola, you can see this plant as you ride over Exhibition. Because of the cold temperatures in the spring, The mountain is still green and the mountain flowers are in bloom. This is a perfect time to go for a Gondola ride, lunch at the Roundhouse and a nature hike!
The Roundhouse Connector is now open! This hiking only trail boasts beautiful views and oportunities for wildlife encounters. It connects the Bald Mountain Trail to the Roundhouse Restaurant and Gondola, with a 14 minute hike over 0.7 miles of Bald Mountain. Definitely worth the visit! (This trail is a hiking only trail, no bikes please.)
The Bald Mountain Summer 2011 Season is underway. The Roundhouse Gondola and Christmas Lift operate daily at 9:00 am with the last roundtrip leaving at 4:00 pm, and the last trip down from the top leaving at 4:30pm. The Roundhouse Restaurant is open for lunch at 11:00am.
Trails are open, the views spectacular and the weather is gorgeous! Come on up and join us!