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

Play It Safe

There is nothing more exhilarating, more exciting than carving some turns or catching some air on skis or a snowboard in Sun Valley. Add a glorious January sun, bright blue skies, terrific conditions and wide-open top-to-bottom shots and you get the picture — we are in a sweet spot of the winter season. But along with all the fun, comes responsibility and in support of National Safety Month sponsored by the National Ski Areas Association, Sun Valley Ski Patrol again offers a variety of programs designed to help guests stay safe and play safe.

January is safety awareness month on the slopes in Sun Valley

January is safety awareness month on the slopes in Sun Valley

All guests are invited to participate in activities that range from avalanche awareness courses, to snow sports equipment safety checks and events designed just for children. For instance, kids are invited to grab a “Kids Safety Awareness Map” at Dollar Mountain, River Run or the Warm Springs’ ticket windows until January 26. The maps familiarize young skiers and riders with important safety points around the mountains. Completed maps should be returned to the window in exchange for a surprise.

This is a month Sun Valley Ski Patrol looks forward to every year. “The safety of our skiing and riding guests and employees is our first priority,” said Mike Lloyd, Director of Sun Valley Ski Patrol. “We view Safety Month as an opportunity to meet and greet our skiing and riding guests and talk about safety on the slopes. The activities we have planned will offer tips that we hope will help keep people safe when on the mountain.”

Guests meet some integral members of Sun Valley Ski Patrol -- our avalanche dogs -- at the top of the gondola

Guests meet some integral members of Sun Valley Ski Patrol -- our avalanche dogs -- at the top of the gondola

In addition to on-slope safety tips, Ski Patrol will also be out and about in town visiting area schools with avalanche dogs. In addition, patrolers, snowmakers, SnowSports School instructors and members of Guest Services will hold public events to help educate and inform. This week, members of the Snowsports School will also offer Chair Aware tips and buttons to youngsters, helping them understand chair lift safety.

Upper River Run will be the practice ground for beacon clinics on January 22 and 24 at 10 a.m. Grab your beacon and meet at Ski Patrol Headquarters atop Baldy to learn or refresh this vital skill.

But wait, there’s more! The Trucker Sno-Cat will be on display all week at Dollar and the ever-popular Safety Maze is in place on Baldy’s crest.

Come explore the Safety Maze atop Baldy

Come explore the Safety Maze atop Baldy

First and foremost to Patrol’s education component is also “knowing the code.” The National Ski Patrol Responsibility Code is a mountain user’s reference that everyone, from seasoned skiers to absolute beginners, should be familiar with. In case you missed the oversize posters detailing the Code on the Christmas and Challenger chairlifts and at the base of the mountains, here they are:

  • Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or object.
  • People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.
  • You must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.
  • Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.
  • Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
  • Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.
  • Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.
Jake reminds you to play it safe and have fun

Jake reminds you to play it safe and have fun

Pete Lane’s Mountain Sports is offering discounted equipment inspection and tunes throughout the month of January. Stop in at the base of River Run to have your bindings tested and certified, get skis and snowboards tuned, have your helmet inspected for a proper fit and make sure your boots aren’t too worn down by walking on pavement. All help ensure the safest day possible on the slopes.

And remember that Ski Patrol is there to help. Our Patrol members are some of the most qualified, helpful and friendly people around. They are EMTs, Paramedics; explosives and ropes experts. They love their job and they know our mountains front, back and crosswise. Be sure to say hello to one this week and thank them for all they do. Also give a shout out to Guest Services, the people at the ticket windows and all mountain employees. They are all doing their very best to make sure you are having the time of your life, and staying safe.

–RES

Safety is fun this week in Sun Valley

Safety is fun this week in Sun Valley

 

The Trauma Conference Comes to Town

“If you are an EMT, paramedic, member of a search and rescue team, ski patrol or just love wilderness medicine and rescue—this is your conference!” proclaims the program for the Ski and Mountain Trauma Conference, currently underway at the Sun Valley Resort.

Hundreds of first responders, doctors and ski patrol gathered this weekend at the Sun Valley Inn for a jam-packed Ski and Mountain Trauma Conference

Hundreds of paramedics, EMTs, doctors and ski patrol gathered this weekend at the Sun Valley Inn for a jam-packed Ski and Mountain Trauma Conference

For the eighth year, the St. Alphonsus Health System has brought the big show to Sun Valley, inviting first responders of all varieties, physicians, ski patrol and others who work with those who work and play in the outdoors to a three-day, jam-packed conference covering topics as diverse at managing frostbite and hypothermia prevention to creative splinting to gondola rescue techniques. The sessions, held at the Sun Valley Inn, are small and hands-on featuring simulations and presentations from national and regional experts. Hundreds come from all over the state and region to participate.

Sun Valley-area EMTs, paramedics, ski patrol and doctors look forward to this conference every year.

Presentations, hands-on sessions, networking and the latest and greatest in gear and technology are all available during the conference

Presentations, hands-on sessions, networking and the latest and greatest in gear and technology are all available during the conference

“Every single one of the classes I have been to has been applicable,” explained Ketchum firefighter and paramedic Lara McLean. “I usually do the whole weekend because what is offered is really relevant to where we live and the patients we see. From pediatric trauma to brain injury to dislocation management to myocardial contusion, the topics they cover matter to what we do — whether you are a ski patrolman, paramedic, or physician. There are many choices for whatever line of work you are in.”

Whiz McNeal, who has been on Sun Valley Ski Patrol since 1975 and is a ropes expert and training officer, said the fact that the conference happens here is huge incentive to attend and to keep learning.

“This conference is great because it doesn’t require time off or travel and it is really relevant to our valley and to our guests,” Whiz said. “There are lots of opportunities for continuing education, certifications and for learning about new protocols. It’s very dynamic and a good way to keep up with all the current science and information. Ski patrol is encouraged to attend and most do.”

Members of Sun Valley Ski Patrol will demonstrate their cutting-edge gondola evacuation techniques

Members of Sun Valley Ski Patrol will demonstrate their cutting-edge gondola evacuation techniques

This year, Sun Valley Ski Patrol partnered with the conference to offer gondola rescue demonstrations. Conference participants will shuttle to River Run on Baldy to learn how our fantastic patrol prepares for weather, equipment malfunctions and individual illness that can create situations where evacuation of the gondola becomes critical. On display is patrol’s special equipment and expertise.

This conference, according to attendees, is also a great networking and social weekend – the chance to catch up with other professionals and learn from each other. The schedule builds in opportunities for meals and down time where participants can compare notes and share information.

The Sun Valley Inn is HQ for a weekend of continuing education, gaining expertise and earning certifications

The Sun Valley Inn is HQ for a weekend of continuing education, gaining expertise and earning certifications

For all of us who live and recreate in the beautiful mountains that surround this valley, knowing that our first responders, ski patrol and other professionals have access to this conference is great news. The Sun Valley Inn is jammed with motivated people who care deeply about what they do and who will finish the conference on Saturday afternoon having been exposed to the latest, greatest information that will benefit everyone.

Thanks to all the participants for committing to continuing their education, and to Sun Valley for hosting this conference. Let the snow season (safely) begin!

–RES

Great information, with a dose of levity, defines the weekend

Great information, with a pinch of levity, defines the weekend

View from a Sled

Once Ski Patrol is summoned, they can arrive at your side within a matter of minutes

Once Ski Patrol is summoned, it is usually a matter of minutes from the hut to the slope

This week, my Monday morning started off in an ordinary Monday kind of way. A little rushed, a bit overcast. I was off to the mountain at 9 a.m. to join up with the DIVAS, my women’s ski group lesson — always a highlight of my week. The usual. An hour and a half later, though, the day had become extraordinary, in the truest sense of the world.

On a groomed run, concentrating on a technique the instructor has just outlined, my bottom ski got away from me and down I went. Falling goes part and parcel with skiing or snowboarding, especially if you are trying something new, pushing yourself a bit. I fall a few times every year which I actually think is good because it means I am not being complacent. Normally, I take a tumble, get up, laugh at myself and shake it off. This one was different. The moment I lost control of my ski, it hurt, and not in the same way that just hitting the snow and taking a good slide down the hill hurts.

Rich Bauer, my new best friend

Ski Patrol's Rich Bauer doing what he does best

While I personally know many of the fine people on Sun Valley’s outstanding Ski Patrol, only once before have I had an “official” interaction with them. A few years ago, when one of my daughters fell jumping a ski gun lip on College, she landed face first and left the snow splattered with blood. Ski Patrol was called, she got the ok, and off we went.

My wonderful teacher called up to Ski Patrol (208.622.6262) as I sat on the slope, dumbfounded at my dumb luck, surrounded by a great, supportive group of women. Within minutes, my knights in shining white-crossed uniforms, Rich Bauer and Barry Irwin, arrived on “the scene.”

Rich, a Paramedic and member of Wood River Fire & Rescue (one of 15 firefighters on Patrol) is married to a DIVAS member, so we chatted about that as he assessed the damage. He, Barry (a ten year Ski Patrol vet), and I determined that skiing down was not an option, so I enjoyed (yes, a euphemism, but it really wasn’t scary) my first sled ride off the hill. The boys bundled me into the toboggan, gave me a warm blanket, and wrapped the waterproof outer layer. Barry even shared his gloves with me as my mittens had gotten soaked in the snow, and pulled the sleigh with bare hands. Throughout the process, from our initial contact, to the determination that a ride was necessary, to the release interview at the base of Warm Springs, Rich and Barry were kind, compassionate, consummate professionals. I expected no less given Ski Patrol’s stellar reputation, but now I can attest to it first-hand.

Warm, cared for and calm, off we go

Warm, cared for, and calm ... off we go

Accidents happen, and if you do happen to need assistance on Baldy or Dollar, there is no better team to have behind you than Sun Valley Ski Patrol, our first responders and the medical staff at St. Luke’s Wood River Hospital. From the moment you need help, to the arrival of Ski Patrol, to delivery (if needed) to our amazing EMS and Paramedics, and the hand-off to a world-class group of doctors and nurses, you will be treated with care, respect, and kindness, all while receiving the best medical attention possible.

Thank you to Rich and to Barry, to my fellow DIVAS and coaches, to Annie and Dr. Keith at St. Luke’s for making what could have been a worrisome experience very manageable and as painless as possible – literally and figuratively.

–RES

Living Legends

Nelson Bennett, front and center, with Ski Patrol of the mid-1950s

Nelson Bennett, Sun Valley ski legend, front and center with fellow Ski Patrol from the 1950s

It is not often that you have the opportunity to break bread with the pioneers, the forerunners, the legends of skiing. Last week, I had the pleasure and the privilege of doing just that as I spent a few sunny afternoons in the company Mary Jane Conger and Nelson Bennett. My takeaway from our conversations was that their stories belong in a book, not a blog, but I will try to do justice to at least the basics.

Nelson, a spry 98-year-old who bears a striking resemblance to Kirk Douglas, and his dear friend Mary Jane, who is in her late 80s but looks 20 years younger, painted a picture of their early years in Sun Valley that made me wish for a time machine. Mary Jane is a Sun Valley native, the granddaughter of the Ketchum pioneer Al Griffith and sister of Jimmy Griffith, Sun valley’s first native born skier named to the U.S. Olympic team. She was a formidable ski racer in her own right, winning the 1952 Harriman Cup slalom, and skiing on a team with Gretchen Fraser and the other best athletes of the day. Her passion for the sport took her all over the country, but she loved skiing here. “The skiing was great, it couldn’t have been more exciting,” she said. “The best skiers in the country were in Sun Valley in 1940 to train for the 1944 Olympics that ended up being canceled because of World War II. But having the top skiers on Baldy upped the ante. I chased those boys around that hill!”

Mary Jane Conger and Nelson Bennett set the scene

Mary Jane Conger and Nelson Bennett share their stories

Nelson pulled into Sun Valley during the summer of 1940, secured a job for the winter, circled home to New Hampshire to collect his things and hurried back. He made the entire trip from Lancaster, New Hampshire, to Shoshone, Idaho, by Union Pacific Railroad. He stayed for 20 years straight, excluding a stint in the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division that took him to Italy. As we celebrate Ski Safety Week, it should be mentioned that Nelson was one of the original members and leaders of Sun Valley Ski Patrol. “Back then it was a lot of maintenance, a lot of shoveling,” he laughed, “a lot of keeping skiers safe in the trees.” During his tenure as a patroler, Nelson invented the prototype of the toboggan used to carry injured skiers off the hill. His original design, constructed entirely from found materials, broke down into three pieces, allowing it to be carried on the narrow single chairlifts. Today’s sleds look a lot like Nelson’s original.

Over tea, Nelson and Mary Jane reminisced about life before high-speed quads and Beast-caliber groomers. Back in the day, they explained, they groomed ski runs with their boot and their skis. The two laughed about the tree over Warm Springs that served as a bridge, the deep powder years, the unbridled joy of skiing every bit of snow on Baldy. Oh, and then there was the time the beer truck hit a power line pole south of town, knocking out electricity and grinding the lifts to a halt. Nelson and his fellow patrolers had to evacuate everyone by rope, chair-by-chair.

Mary Jane and Madi enjoy lunch earlier this season at Lookout

Mary Jane and Madi enjoy lunch at Lookout earlier this season

This week, Nelson, a member of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, is back in town to see his friends, members of the Ancient Skiers. This club was founded in 1962 and boasts approximately 1000 members. For the remainder of January, hundreds of members of the Ancient Skiers and the Mount Hood Gang will make their annual pilgrimage to Sun Valley to reunite with friends, participate in race clinics, free-ski, enjoy parties, dinners and movies, and give a big toast to the mountain culture that shaped their lives. An honorary lifetime member of the Ancient Skiers, Nelson and his companion, Madi Springer-Miller Kraus, a 1958 FIS World Championship skier, plan to make the rounds, as does Mary Jane. Nelson declared that at 98, he might finally be ready to hang up his skis, but his passion for the sport and the lifestyle will never be retired.

Many thanks to Nelson and Mary Jane (& Madi) for sharing their stories, their memories, their infectious love for skiing and for Sun Valley. I hope we can continue the conversation.

–RES

Safety First

Skooter Gardiner and Sean Glaccum of Ski Patrol fashion a safety "temple" atop Baldy for Safety Week. The power tools don't look too safe, but don't worry, they are pros.

Skooter Gardiner and Sean Glaccum of Ski Patrol fashion a safety "temple" atop Baldy for Safety Week. The power tools don't look too safe, but don't worry, they are pros.

It’s that time of year: great snow, bluebird skies and Safety Week. The Safety Week campaign, sponsored by the National Ski Area Association to help make the sport we all love so well, the safest it can be, kicks off Saturday. If you ski on Baldy or Dollar from the 19th through the 26th, you will know there is something special going on. According to Sun Valley Ski Patrol’s Sean Glaccum, patrollers are working hard to make the campaign both informative and fun.

The educational part of Safety Week focuses on helping skiers and boarders know how to keep the mountain as safe and enjoyable as possible for everyone. First and foremost to Patrol’s education component is “knowing the code.” The National Ski Patrol Responsibility Code is a mountain user’s reference that everyone, from seasoned skiers to absolute beginners, should be familiar with. In case you missed the oversized posters detailing the Code on the Christmas and Challenger chairlifts, here they are:

(1) Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.

(2) People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.
(3) You must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.
(4) Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.
(5) Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
(6) Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.
(7) Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.

Members of Sun Valley Ski Patrol have also been in area schools this week, helping children understand the importance of skiing safe. Glaccum said this is one of everyone’s favorite parts of Safety Week. “The kids are great. They really listen and they get it,” he said. “Reaching out to the community is meaningful for all of us.”

The fun part of Safety Week takes many forms. Right now, an absolutely mammoth safety “temple” is being erected on the top of Baldy.  Patrol’s amazing avalanche dogs will make personal appearances at the top of the gondola. The first Tucker Snowcat will be on display at Dollar. Correctly answered safety trivia will win you a free cocoa. There are prizes, buttons and schwag galore.

Everyone in the Sun Valley mountain family is getting in on Safety Week.  Snowsports instructors are emphasizing both chairlift safety and “lids on kids” — the importance of properly fitting helmets. To help with this second initiative, all retail outlets on the mountain will answer any of your helmet questions and help you find a perfect fit. Safety also comes with comfort and knowledge, so Guest Services is out in force, helping mountain users acquaint themselves with the layout of the ski runs. Folks at the ticket counters are doing the same and will happily go over mountain maps with you and make suggestions that suit your ability level and interests.

Some of the many (safe) helmets available at the Brass Ranch at River Run

Many very safe helmets are available at Brass Ranch at the base of River Run

Another important (and free) service will also be provided in honor of Safety Week. Pete Lane’s Mountain Sports will offer ski binding checks to help people stay in their skis when they should, and release out of their skis when they shouldn’t. The program is available at River Run, Warm Springs and Dollar, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The binding check takes about 20 minutes and requires your skis and one of your boots. Feel free to leave your skis and boots overnight to take advantage of this service (not to mention warm boots the next day).

 

 

Last year, Sun Valley’s Ski Patrol was rated number one out of 425 national patrols in their ability to interface effectively and helpfully with skiers and boarders on their mountains and with the community at large. They are motivated to hold on to the distinction, so expect to see a lot of white crosses all over the hills this coming week.

As I always say, our Patrol members are some of the most qualified, helpful and friendly people anywhere. They are EMT’s, Paramedics; explosives and ropes experts. They love their job. They are here to help.  Be sure to say hello to one this week and thank them for all they do. Also give a shout out to Guest Services, the people at the ticket windows and all mountain employees. They are all doing their very best to make sure you are having the time of your life, and staying safe.

–RES

Chairlift and terrain park safety will both be emphasized next week

Both chairlift and terrain park safety will be emphasized next week

Ski Patrol 101

Here are my impressions of the new Ski Patrol 101 program, in no particular order.

  • In December, it is still midnight dark at 7 a.m. at the base of River Run.
  • If you are lucky enough to be drawn to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime experience, be sure you’ve had at least one cup of coffee upon arrival (if you’re a grown-up). You are expected to be awake, alert and ready to work.
  • Sun Valley’s Ski Patrol has the most breathtaking office anywhere in the world.
  • I had no idea how much went into getting the mountain safe and open in the morning, even when it hasn’t snowed.
  • The Patrol is made up of some of the funniest, kindest people in the Valley.
  • Hopping on the back of a snowmobile behind Mike Davis, zooming to meet a “hot” helicopter landing drill, made my morning.
  • I will never be hired as a Ski Patrol member but it was fun to play one for a few hours.

    How Ski Patrol greets the day

    How Ski Patrol greets the day

Enter to win this once-in-a-lifetime experience

Enter to win this once-in-a-lifetime experience

For those of you who haven’t heard about Ski Patrol 101, here are the basics. Every week, a lucky winner (plus a friend) will be chosen at random to work as a patroller on a Saturday morning. You enter by submitting your information on an iPad kiosk at either the River Run Lodge or in the Recreation Office in the Sun Valley Village. If your name is drawn, Ski Patrol will phone you with the good news and meet you at the base of the hill on your assigned day. You will attend the morning meeting and be put to work at any of the dozens of tasks completed by Ski Patrol each morning between 7:30 a.m. and the mountain’s open at 9. Patrol will ask what you are interested in helping with, which could be as simple as riding a snow machine to the Bowls to make sure the cat track is in good shape, to more advanced prep requiring more advanced skiing ability. It truly is appropriate for anyone who is comfortable on Baldy.

Here is what the basics don’t tell you. Sunrise on Baldy from the vantage of the Ski Patrol Hut is perhaps one of the most jaw-dropping you will ever experience. The quality of the light is a hot orange/pink and flows over the top of the mountain like the tide coming in. Hopping on the Christmas Lift in near darkness, then skiing off at the top as the sky turns from grey to purple to gold is something I will never forget.

Assessing the day ahead at morning meeting

Assessing the day ahead at morning meeting

After participating in the morning meeting that covers everything from snow conditions, weather conditions, grooming and skier numbers, I was off with my personal Patrolman, David Schames to “help.” When asked what I would like to do, I glibly replied “drill” and “drop gates” without really knowing what that involves.

So off we went down Ridge and Blue Grouse (did I mention you get first tracks as part of this endeavor, too?) to the cat track below. There, a bunch of very competent patrollers waited patiently while I inexpertly drilled post holes into the snow and tried to help set up boundary fences. Then it was off to drop gates – something that sounds easier than I found it to be. We skied down the very edge of Christmas Bowl, opening chutes that lead into the Bowls. The terrain was kind of steep and lumpy in there (and I truly had not had enough coffee) and “dropping” a gate is not a passive drop at all. You tug hard at a bungee-type rope, trying to get the right angle so it snaps open, before neatly coiling it on a post. I was not brilliant at it.

Watching the sunrise with Dave Schames and Jack Sibbach

Watching the sunrise with Dave Schames and Jack Sibbach

I was excellent at my last task, however. That morning, Patrol was working with Sun Valley Heli-Ski on a “hot” drill, landing a copter behind Lookout Restaurant, loading it with Patrol and flying off to a mock emergency on some other peak. Excitement was high as the radio announced the imminent arrival of the helicopter. The Hut cleared out, as people jumped on snowmobiles or picked up ropes behind them to be pulled up the hill. I jumped onto the seat, held on to Mike Davis and was very thankful no one had suggested I tried to “ski” behind the machine. We roared up to Lookout just as the helicopter landed and it was amazing to watch the drill begin. We are all in very capable hands whenever we are on that mountain.

Ski Patrol, with Heli-Ski, prepping for any emergency

Ski Patrol, with Heli-Ski, prepping for any emergency

Whether or not you really “help” during your time at the hill, is somewhat irrelevant to Ski Patrol 101 (thank goodness). What the experience did for me is demystify some of what the Patrol does and make me truly appreciate the job and the people who do it. The Hut is open to visitors at any time and the sign outside that reads “welcome” is telling the truth. Stop by and say hi.

Becoming a Ski Patroller for the morning was exciting, humbling and just plain fun. Thanks to David, Jack Sibbach and the rest of the crew for being so gracious and patient and letting me have a glimpse of what goes on behind-the-scenes on the mountain I love so well.

–RES

Beacon Hill

The sign at the beginning of the beacon park explains how it works

Welcome to the Beacon Training Park on Baldy

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 Patrolman Skooter Gardiner demonstrating an avalanche probe

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.

Using the beacon to find a signal

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.

Member of Ski Patrol prepare for their shift

Members of Ski Patrol prepare to keep the mountain, and our guests, safe

– RES

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.

–RES

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

 

 

 

 

Avalanche Basics

Avalanche Basics for Out-Of-Bounds Skiers

Saturday, March 10

9am – 5pm

Classroom session will be held in the upstairs conference room in the Mountain office (next to gondola)

Taught by the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center and Sun Valley Ski Patrol

Details:

This is a new class specially designed for out-of-bounds skiers and boarders. It is an introductory level program and no prior avalanche training is required. This class is a must for anyone who plans to head into the backcountry, especially the out-of-bounds areas on Baldy.

Classroom (morning): Recognizing avalanche danger: avalanche terrain, signs of instability, human factors and psychology Avoiding avalanche danger: planning and preparation, decision-making, safe travel, avalanche rescue

Field (afternoon): Avalanche terrain recognition and evaluation Terrain management Group management and communication Avalanche beacon use

Advanced registration is required and participation is limited. Contact the Avalanche Center to sign up: info@sawtoothavalanche.com or 208-622-0095.

A $25 donation is requested for the class and a season pass or half-price ticket ($45) is required.