If you stand in front of the Ski Patrol hut on Baldy (which can be found tucked under the mountain’s chin and is easily identifiable by the many white crosses it flies), and orient your skis straight down the hill, after a few turns, you will end up at the new avalanche beacon practice center. Delineated by an oversized wooden gate and marked on either side with stakes, this is an area in which five transceivers or beacons (the oversized-cell-phone-looking equipment that transmit an electronic “beep” and should be worn by all back and side-country skiers) are buried. The practice arena opened for the season on Tuesday and is free to use.
“We invite the public to come with their beacons and hone their skills,” Skooter Gardiner of the Sun Valley Ski Patrol explained as we side-slipped down to the field. “It’s open when the mountain is and it’s an excellent resource.”
Ski Patrol's Skooter Gardiner demonstrates how to use the park
The beacons are buried beneath the snow on the unofficial run “Christmas Bridge,” that spans Christmas Ridge and Christmas Bowl above the trees. A special dial affixed to the vertical beam of the gate allows users to customize their experience. Dial in how many transmitters you want to search, set your beacon to receive, and follow the signal. A sign next to the dial explains exactly how the system works and how best to use it. The equipment was a gift from Dr. Rick Moore, an orthopedic surgeon who is an avid skier and good friend to Sun Valley Ski Patrol.
As I am a novice at beacon training, Skooter dialed up two transmitters on which to practice. Given today’s user-friendly equipment, it is not hard to get the basics of beacon use, but it is obvious that practicing with one is the only way to get good at using one. The basics are: hold the beacon parallel and flat to the snow’s grade and point it downhill. An arrow on the screen points toward the beeping transceiver and indicates how far you are from your target. A “bull’s-eye” appears on the screen and the beeping intensifies when you are very close. Then it is time to mark a probable area and search with an avalanche probe until you hit the steel plate that lets you know you found your mark. The exercise reminded me a sophisticated game of “hot and cold” played by children.
My beacon's "bull's-eye" indicates that I am close to the buried transceiver
But proper training for snow emergencies is no game. “Ski Patrolers often come out here three or four times a week to practice,” said Skooter. “It’s like anything else, the more something becomes second nature, the more successful you will be in a real-life situation.”
If you ever go into the backcountry or have children who do, the new beacon practice center on Baldy is an easy, interesting and readily accessible way to practice vital skills. Having the equipment isn’t enough. Taking a basic avalanche course isn’t enough. Practice, practice, practice.
Rest assured, even if you keep to the groomers, it’s good to know that our already highly-qualified Ski Patrol (filled with EMTs, Paramedics, explosives experts, firefighters and some of the best skiers on the hill) are also out there regularly and rigorously doing their beacon homework.
Members of Ski Patrol prepare to keep the mountain, and our guests, safe
Being ready for an avalanche rescue takes lots of practice and expertise, even for Sun Valley Ski Patrol
We all know skiing and boarding are fun. Big fun, in fact. But the importance of knowing how to stay safe in the snow cannot be over exaggerated. While many love the idea of backcountry or “side-county” skiing (what until recently used to be called illegally ducking the ropes), not everyone who ventures off groomers understands how to prepare for potential pitfalls when enjoying winter activities.
Sun Valley Ski Patrol wants to help. In conjunction with many organizations and retailers in the community, Ski Patrol presented the Sawtooth Snow Safety Festival on Saturday. A large crowd came out, despite a light rain and the promise of snow (fingers crossed!) to check out the latest equipment, participate in demonstrations and get as much information as possible. Held at Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge (that, by the way, is already beautifully decorated for the holidays – kudos to this year’s designers!) the festival was a rousing success.
Avalanche beacons 101
According to Mike Davis, one of Sun Valley Ski Patrol’s outstanding supervisors, “it is crucial for mountain users who might be venturing out onto a powder day, side-country slope, or the backcountry (even if the backcountry is literally in your backyard), to be prepared. There are so many resources available to educate people and help them learn the essentials as well as really advanced skills.”
The past few years have seen a huge increase in people interested in “side-country” skiing on Baldy, especially after the Castle Rock fire in 2007 exposed what many saw as new ski terrain. But Davis said he cannot over emphasize that mountain users are on their own if they venture out-of-bounds. “There is no patrol, no sweep. Even if you know what you’re doing, someone above you may not,” he said.
That is why events like the Snow Safety Festival are so important. Local instructors, experts and merchants discussed all the equipment necessary to more safely explore off-piste (shovels, probes and beacons being at the top of the list) and the importance of knowing exactly how to use them. Many at the event also emphasized that using experienced guides like those at Sawtooth Mountain Guides or Sun Valley Trekking is a very, very smart way to go.
The newest generation of avalanche beacons
Shovels are a must-have safety item and were on display at the Snow Safety Festival
Part of the joy of living in or visiting Sun Valley is the vast outdoor playground that surrounds the Wood River Valley on all sides. There are limitless possibilities for exploration, adventure and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. But what the Snow Safety Festival emphasized is that information is key. Skiers and boarders on Baldy should heed all signs and advisories. Ski Patrol is there to keep you safe, not hinder your fun. Backcountry users should check conditions with the local Avalanche Center that updates information daily throughout the season. When in need of new information or a refresher, sign up for a course or clinic.
Slopeside life officially kicks off in Sun Valley on Thursday the 22nd. Let’s all have the most fun, safest season yet.
Backcountry adventurer Bob Rosso shows off the latest equipment during the Festival
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!
Adhering to the general philosophy that it’s a lot more fun to play it safe and be smart than it is to wind up in the Emergency Room, each winter the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) celebrates "Ski Safety Week."
Sun Valley is once again taking part in the national party to promote safe and responsible skiing and boarding. And the great news–besides the fact that ski patrollers are giving out coupons for free cocoa!–is that these annual reminders are working.
According to Mike Lloyd, Sun Valley’s Ski Patrol Director, Baldy is one of the safest ski areas in the country, boasting a mere 1.7% accident rate (per thousand skiers); almost a full point below the national average.
"We definitely see a positive impact from this program," Lloyd says.
To help keep Baldy and Dollar Mountains safe, fun places to shred, here are some of the highlights from this year’s National Ski Safety Week (January 14-22).
Know the Code!
It’s the responsibility of every skier and snowboarder to know and adhere to the Responsibility Code. It’s what you agree to when you buy a ski pass at just about every resort on the globe. In case you need a refresher, or a member of the Ski Patrol asks you (every day this week they’re giving out 100 coupons for free hot cocoa to kids who know the Code), here’s a refresher:
1. Always stay in control.
2. People ahead of you have the right of way.
3. Stop in a safe place for you and others.
4. Whenever starting downhill or merging, look uphill and yield.
5. Use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
6. Observe signs and warnings, and keep off closed trails.
7. Know how to use the lifts safely.
Lids on Kids
Since wearing a "Brain Bucket" is no-brainer when you’re skiing or snowboarding, Sun Valley is supporting the Lids of Kids. The program reminds shredders of a few basic guidelines:
-Wearing a helmet when participating in snow sports is a smart idea. Besides the overwhelming safety benefits of wearing a helmet, they tend to be warmer than simply wearing a hat.
-One size does not fit all. Make sure to follow some fitting guidelines before hitting the hill in headgear.
-Heads Up, Set an Example: Skiing and riding in a responsible and safe manner isn’t just important for your own sake. It’s sets a good example for kids of all ages (and sometimes it’s the adults who need to be reminded how to follow the Responsibility Code the most).
Besides plastering both Baldy and Dollar Mountains with posters promoting the Responsibility Code, Sun Valley is also holding a Kid’s Poster Contest. Entries can be picked up at Dollar Mountains’ Children’s Center. Good luck and be safe!
If we are really honest with ourselves…we have to admit that for many Mountain Diva’s form comes before function. You know the drill and you’ve seen them on the hill (perhaps even secretly admiring them from afar). It’s the perfectly pulled together Diva with the color-coordinated outfit and somehow matching accessories. The fact that she has the latest in ski technology and can shred the mountain like a pro just adds to the awe factor.
But, when it comes to helmets, every Diva (especially mountain mamas) knows the mantra: SAFETY FIRST.
Why safety first? Well, we need to set a good example for our kids, as well as our sisters and peers. And since we are often the ones purchasing helmets for our kids, it is even more important that we know the essentials–and the DOs and DON’Ts of proper helmet fitting.
The good news is that helmet design has come a long way since the classic Bell downhill ski helmets first hit the slopes. They are now lightweight, aerodynamic and well padded (some even have extra soft ear flap choices). They also come in lots of shapes and sizes (to fit every head shape) and are offered in a dazzling array of colors, designs and finishes (Mountain Divas rejoice…you can still feel like you are choosing form over function, even if it is safety first)!!
To help you make the right choice, hear are a few tips on getting the perfect fit, followed by a quick rundown on some of the more popular helmets you’ll see on the slopes this winter:
Getting The Right Fit
1. Measure Your Head. Ski helmets are generally sized based upon your head circumference (usually measured in centimeters). Even the ones that use a Small, Medium, Large scale are based on head circumference, so measure your head and compare to the manufacturer’s size chart. Measure one inch above the eyebrows all the way around. Measure kids’ head circumference in the same manner. (Jump to the end of this blog for a conversion chart of centimeters to inches.)
2. Try On Several Brands. Be sure you try BEFORE you buy. Remember that ski and boarder helmets, just like heads, come in lots of different shapes and sizes, and there is one that will be the best fit for your head. The wrong shape will feel too tight (and may even pinch or have “hot spots” in certain areas) or will be too loose at the top or on the sides. Keep trying. Just like Godilocks, there will be one that will fit “just right.”
3. Check the Fit. This is really important for fitting kids helmets. A helmet should fit securely, but not so tight you have pain. “The helmet should feel snug around the crown and shouldn’t move around too much,” says Greg Bearce, supervisor at Pete Lane’s Warm Springs. If it feels like a good fit, try the following test: gently hold the helmet in place and try to turn your head from side to side, then up and down. The helmet should feel snug and should have very little room for movement (less than an inch), and should not obscure your vision.
4. Bring Your Goggles. Be sure to bring your goggles to make sure they fit your helmet. Otherwise, you may find yourself at the top of the mountain on a powder day without proper visibility, because your goggles are too big or too small to fit your helmet.
5. Ski Helmets for Children. Whatever you do, don’t buy a helmet that is too big or it will be useless. This is especially important when buying for kids or trying to recycle helmets for younger siblings. Resist the temptation to buy a helmet for a child to “grow into” because the fit will be wrong and the helmet won’t be able do its job of absorbing the impact and preventing concussions.
6. Don’t Wear a Beanie or Hat Under Your Helmet. “This is one of the biggest fashion misconceptions out there,” says Greg Bearce, supervisor at Pete Lanes Warm Springs. “A beanie is var far the worst thing you can wear under a helmet because it prevents the helmet from doing its job,” adds Bearce, “it just allows for too much movement, doesn’t let the helmet do what it was designed to do and can lead to the compression injuries that cause concussions.” Bearce notes that some of the really thin skull caps can work under helmets because they conform exactly to the head. But when in doubt, just avoid any thicker under layers–having the room to fit a hat or beanie probably means that the helmet is too big and is not a proper fit anyway.
Helmet Style, Accessories & Options
Now onto the more creative part of helmet buying. Once you have the proper fit, you can get down to the details of style, color and accessories. Remember that different age groups have different priorities when choosing helmets–some are attracted to aerodynamics or accessories (wireless audio system ear flaps or full cell phone and in-line components) while others (especially younger kids) are drawn to the more immediate visuals of cool colors, metallic finishes or unique designs. And if you can’t find the perfect combo, you can always consider decals or stickers to add a design of your own.
Smooth, flowing lines and elegant finishing details complement the Intrigue’s low profile Hybrid Shell construction. Combining AirEvac 2 ventilation and a soft, fleeced tricot lining beneath a refined collection of designs, the Intrigueis the ideal helmet for women of discriminating tastes. It also has the option for the Skullcandy Audio System (an added bonus for Divas who like to carry their tunes with them down the mountain). And it comes a wide range of fantastic colors, including Black Pearl, White Pearl, Shadow Green, Antique/Coral, Bronze Fallen, Petal Blue Briston, Shadow Purple Baroque, White Fallen.
Revolutionary new technology discreetly concealed behind a bevy of stylish accents, the all-new Voyage will take you on a trip you never thought possible. Using revolutionary Hybrid In-Mold technology to minimize mass and maximize ventilation, the Voyage offers up the ultimate in performance without sacrificing one ounce of style. This patented technology weighs in a little less (at 450 grams/16 ounces) than the Smith Intrigue and currently comes in White, Black, Ivory Bristol, Ultramarine Night Out, Frost Gray Stereo or Paris Pink Baroque.
Giro’s Seam is the perfect all mountain helmet. An improved Thermostat vent system, Giro’s Stack Vent, and a feather light weight will keep your temp under control, your goggles clear and your comfort level at an all time high. Finish it off with the best fit system ever made (with an adjustable wheel in the back to help dial in the perfect fit) for a snow helmet and you are ready for a full day on the mountain. Lots of Giro accessories (like stereo ear flaps and other adjustments) and a wide range of colors make this a popular and functional helmet for both kids AND adults. Available in Matte Brown, Matte White, Matte Pewter, Cyan Tiles, Matte Black, Matte Red, Black Towers, Matte Blue Sunset, Matte Grey Stripes.
POC Skull Comp – Bode or Julia
The ultimate race helmet, upgraded. The Skull Comp is now updated to version 2.0, adding a new unique safety feature. After finding that today’s race skiers repeatedly hit gates hard and risk to deform the liner, we shifted the core material to multi impact EPP. On top of the liner, we use a thin outer shell in combination with our patented Aramid membrane penetration barrier, APB. To optimize the energy absorption properties, pneumatic honeycomb pads made of polyurethane are inserted into the multi impact EPP liner. Great fit, performance and protection over and overagain!
There are two editions of the POC Skull Comp, one designed by Bode Miller and one by Julia Mancuso–both extraordinary athletes at the top of their sport. Bode Miller rides with his POC Skull Comp Pro Model helmet in green and white. There is also a Poc Skull Comp Pro – Julia that is blue and white in honor of pro racer Julia Mancuso. And, as if the extreme protection and functionality weren’t enough, the Julia edition Skull Comp comes with a kit of Swarowski Crystals to make your own Julia style tiara.
A pro race helmet with Wwarowski Crystals…Mountain Divas REJOICE!!
Finally, form plus function.
Giro Seam, Mtn Blue Sunset
Helmet Size Conversion Chart
Centimeters to Inches
52 cm = 20- inches
53 cm = 20-7/8 inches
54 cm = 21 inches
55 cm = 21 5/8 inches
56 cm = 22 inches
57 cm = 22 3/8 inches
58 cm = 22 inches
59 cm = 23 inches
60 cm = 23 5/8 inches
Okay, believe it or not, we’re just about down to 100 days until Baldy opens for the 75th winter season… And Apples Bar and Grill at the base of the Warm Springs ski lifts is presenting the 7th annual Pig Roast and Reggae celebration of the 100 day pre-anniversary. It all happens at the Apple’s restaurant there with a frisbee golf course set up through the Greyhawk parking lot and around the lift bases, finishing up on the street where the Ethan Tucker Band will be supplying the music for the evening. Dinner served Apples-style, and plenty of beer will be flowing. Should be a great time for all. Pack the dogs and kennel the kids, and come on out to join the fun!
Noon- Frisbee Golf
Music starts at 4pm and dinner served at 5pm.
Sun Valley Season Pass raffle- $5 per tickets or 5 for $20
Yep, that’s right, the world famous rock and roll artist Dave Mason will be performing at River Run tomorrow night! The music starts at 5:00pm with Kole Moulton and the Lonely Road, and the Disciples of Rock followed by Dave Mason at 7:00pm. It should be a great show, one that you don’t want to miss. If you haven’t been to a concert at River Run, this is a perfect chance to come out and see one. Tickets are only $20 for adults, and $5 for kids under 12, available at all Sun Valley ticket outlets.
Sun Valley Resort will offer BBQ items on site, and there will be a no-host bar set up near Pete Lane’s Bike Shop on River Run Plaza.
To add to the fun all the local first responder agencies will be in the River Run parking lot all afternoon showing off their cool gear and new equipment. We’ll see the Blaine County Search and Rescue with their rescue dogs and all the local fire departments. The USFS Helitac helicopter will be there, as well as the Life Flight helicopter from St. Lukes Hospital. These are the folks that make it possible for us all to enjoy the mountain life we enjoy in the beautiful Wood River Valley. This is your chance to meet all these fine community servants and get to know them and find out what they do for us. Have you ever seen a helicopter up close?
See you there.