Have Fun, Stay Safe

The goods news is that it’s snowing like crazy in Sun Valley. In fact, the snow is great news! Four inches of fluffy new powder has fallen in the past 24 hours, piling onto another 4” that fell earlier this week and two feet that fell in a storm a few days ago. Sun Valley is showing off its winter white finery and offering some of the best skiing and snowboarding anywhere this Presidents’ Day weekend. Woo hoo!

Heavy recent snowfall is making the second half of the season something to celebrate

Heavy recent snowfall is making the second half of the season something to celebrate

Enthusiasm is high to say the least.

However, all this wonderful new snow has created some safety concerns of which all mountain users need to be aware, and to respect. The season’s minimal early snowfall followed by a series of closely-spaced, powerful storms, equals an unstable snowpack. Given these conditions, it is critical that guests respect closed areas on both Baldy and Dollar.

Sun Valley Ski Patrol is working around-the-clock to drop the ropes on any many runs as safely possible

Sun Valley Ski Patrol is working around-the-clock to drop the ropes on any many runs as safely possible

On a sophisticated mountain like Baldy with its detachable high speed quad lifts and state-of-the-art gondola, and some of the best grooming equipment and groomers anywhere, it is easy to forget that slides can happen, even in-bounds. As members of Sun Valley Ski Patrol work tirelessly to get as many trails open, as quickly as possible, mountain users should understand their methods and goals. Mitigating snowpack instability is one of Ski Patrol’s primary responsibilities within ski area boundaries. Before, during and after storms, they implement ski cutting techniques and explosives to accomplish this. Many think the best alarm clock there is is the ka-boom of dynamite hitting the Bowls.

If areas remain closed, though, it is for good reason. In addition to unstable snowpack, these can include (but are not limited to) snowcat or snow machine travel, areas of thin cover, man made obstructions, wildlife considerations, fallen trees, or unsafe conditions in which to run a toboggan. These can change quickly due to current conditions.

 

Members of Ski Patrol are maximizing fun and safety and ask guests to respect ski area closures

Members of Ski Patrol are maximizing fun and safety and ask guests to respect ski area closures

Ski Patrol is comprised of some of the best, most enthusiastic skiers and boarders around. They love powder as much as the rest of us (maybe more) and yearn, like we all do, for first tracks, for themselves and for our guests. It gives them as much as a rush to drop that rope as it does for snow sports enthusiasts to be there when it drops. After all, they love Sun Valley’s mountains and want everyone to have the greatest experience possible.

When closures are ignored, though, unforeseen results may occur and that is really not what you want during an epic day on the mountain. Sun Valley Ski Patrol only sweeps runs that are open to the public. This means if a guest is injured or lost in a closed area, they are on their own. You don’t want to be that person as night falls. Entering closed areas also sets a poor example for younger guests. Overall, there is too much at stake to risk everything for a few turns in a closed area.

It is probably safe to say that everyone wants guests to enjoy the best day ever on Sun Valley’s slopes, especially members of Ski Patrol. But they also want to make sure that guests stay safe.

There is nothing better than a powder day on Baldy

There is nothing better than a powder day on Baldy

Check for special notices on sunvalley.com where the mountain reports post any special delays and closures. It’s always good to be informed about general conditions, too, so be sure to check in with the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center regularly, especially during, or right after, winter storms. Guests unfamiliar with closure policies should never follow people under ropes or into areas marked closed, but should seek a member of Ski Patrol or Guest Services to get the correct information.

The silence of falling snow is music to all our ears. This week, smiles are broad, the mood is light. But with the excitement about a fantastic second season that starts right about now, let’s all help the dedicated members of Sun Valley Ski Patrol do what they do best: keep us all safe and enjoying this magical mountain playground.

If you have any questions about openings and conditions, pop into the Ski Patrol hut atop Baldy and just ask

If you have any questions about openings and conditions, pop into the Ski Patrol hut atop Baldy and just ask

As the snow continues to fall (yay!) and settle over the next weeks, please enjoy the amazing terrain that is open and available to play in. If there is a rope closing off an area, please understand that it is there because it needs to be.

Now get out there and enjoy these fabulous February feet of snow!

–RES

Meet the BEAST

Charlie Kucher, groomer extraordinaire

Meet Charlie Kucher: groomer and tour guide extraordinaire

I must admit, “pulling up” in front of Roundhouse Restaurant in the world’s biggest snow cat, “the BEAST,” is as close to feeling like a rock star as this forty-something mother of three has gotten in a long, long time. When we parked near the stairs leading up to the famed restaurant, the door swung open and I stepped, drenched in spotlights and dusted with a light flurry of snow, onto the mammoth treads. I paused for a moment taking it all in: the brightly lit restaurant festooned for the holidays, Ketchum’s lights twinkling far below, the massive and alien-looking snow cat beneath my feet. I extended my hand, reaching for that of the gracious gondola greeter and, I hope, leapt gracefully to the ground. What a ride.

The modern day grooming caravan heads up River Run

This modern day caravan heads up River Run

The experience began hours earlier, before evening fell like a blanket over Baldy. At 4 p.m., I reported to the daily groomer’s meeting as one of the first lucky people this season to get a ride on the fabled BEAST. You, too, can partake of the story you are about to read by entering your name for weekly raffle drawings that allow guests to watch the country’s best grooming team at work, all from the driver’s vantage point.

At the meeting, I began to understand why our mountain has a reputation for the best grooming anywhere. The swing shift, on duty from 4 p.m. to midnight, is comprised of seasoned pros who work the seven cats. The graveyard shift takes over from midnight to 8 a.m., ensuring the best snow surface possible for the 9 a.m. open. The group, all men, spoke in a dialect with which I am not familiar, discussing feathering, tilling, pushing and winching.  Foremost on the mind of Grooming Manager Kerry O’Brien, however, was the huge winter storm expected to hit Ketchum Monday.

Looking the BEAST in the eye

I look the BEAST in the eye

The light decorative flurries falling Saturday afternoon may have been a portent of great things to come, but for me, they set just the right mood for my adventure. I met Charlie Kucher, a grooming supervisor and my driver/confidante for the evening, right before I met the Prinoth BEAST. I liked both right away. As Charlie advised me to (not so gracefully) hoist myself into the BEAST’s cabin, I was immediately impressed. That cat is huge. Weighing in at a few mature elephants, and featuring a back tiller that is four-feet wider than traditional cats, this 520- horsepower, half-a-million dollar machine is a sight to behold. Once Charlie switched her on and maneuvered out of the oversized garagery at the bottom of River Run, the BEAST began to climb the mountain like it was taking a leisurely stroll.  No gasping for breath here.

Control central

Control central

Seated comfortably in the space-age cockpit, Charlie worked the levers and buttons that raise the blade (the plow-looking grill in the front that cuts the snow), and the tiller in the back (that processes the surface and leaves nice lines of corduroy), like the conductor of a large orchestra. We traversed the mountain on the aptly named cat tracks until we reached the top of Warm Springs. There, we (not really we, Charlie) dipped the blade of the Beast over the edge of the trail and off we went, pointing straight down Warm Springs, as the lights below began to flicker on.

Driving down Warm Springs

Driving down Warm Springs

As we chatted about family, Charlie’s past life (commercial fisherman, chef), his passion for skiing and why he loves his job (teamwork among all the mountain operations departments), tempus fugit. Up and down Warm Springs we journeyed, from I-80 to the Lodge where Charlie showed off some pretty sweet u-turns. I knew on Sunday I would be proud to ski the run I watched Charlie so meticulously and lovingly groom.

Then it was off to Roundhouse – a vintage jewel tucked into snowy folds of fabric at 7,700 feet above sea level. I intended to hop on the gondola and return to my non rock-star life, but Roundhouse beckoned. Saturday was the first night dinner was being served and the restaurant was full and festive. Not needing much convincing, I grabbed a seat at the new rustic wooden bar and soon had the distinction of being the first guest to be served dinner there. The food, the bartenders Mike and Matt, and the ambiance were the perfect nightcap to an amazing afternoon.

Mike and Matt will welcome you to the Roundhouse's new bar

Mike and Matt, the welcoming committee at Roundhouse's new bar

To enter the raffle so you, too, can have this once-in-a-lifetime experience, you need only fill out a free entry form on Ipads available at the Sun Valley Recreation Center in the Village or at the River Run Ticket Office. One winner will be chosen to ride every Friday and Saturday night throughout the season and dinner at Roundhouse may be combined with the ride, space permitting (and with L’Addition the guest’s responsibility). Winners are announced a day prior and must be 18 years old. Please call 622-2135 for more information.

– RES