Play it safe this winter

Ski Patrol practices for a rescue

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.

A group practices with avalanche beacons

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

The newest generation of avalanche beacons

Avalanche shovels

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.


Bob Rosso talks equipment

Backcountry adventurer Bob Rosso shows off the latest equipment during the Festival

Experts are ready to answer questions

Many local experts were ready to give advice