Blue skies and great conditions defined Baldy's opening day
Helmet: check. Goggles: check. Ski pants that still fit (phew): check. Socks without holes: check. Skis, poles, boots: check. Gloves, two left ones: whoops. Wish I had caught that while I was still at home. But, hey, it’s my first day of the season. Something had to give!
Thus outfitted, geared-up and downright excited, on Sunday morning I turned into the lower parking area at River Run, hungrily eyeing the hill. The first day of ski season is a homecoming for me. I gave a big wave to Bill, my favorite parking shuttle driver. He smiled, giving me thumbs up. At the base of the hill, I caught up with the boys in the tune shop and rental desk, people I haven’t seen since closing day last April. Dan at the Brass Ranch not only recommended the right gadget allowing me answer my phone without fumbling around (don’t worry, I don’t chat on the phone on the lift), he installed it, too. Smiles all around.
Come on up, the skiing is fine!
More smiles as the ticket taker at the base of the River Run chair, a new face this year, scanned my pass. Day one was officially underway! A warm-up run led me down Upper College to Mid River and back to the lift. My thoughts on these groomers alternated between “Whee!” and “Ow, my knees!” and “Yikes! I’m not sure I remember how to do this,” but I made it all the same. The next run, down Upper Warm Springs to I-80 was smoother and more relaxing and by the time I made it to the soft bumps (yes, bumps, in November!) on Ridge, I was getting my groove back.
Early season skiing is gratifying. I always appreciate, with my sore knees and tired muscles (I knew I should have signed up for one of those pre-season boot camps), that every run on our huge, challenging mountain isn’t available on Day One. At first, just enough slopes are open to remember the joy of skiing, the basics of making pretty turns and to provide a real-life boot camp. Nothing trains your legs for skiing like skiing. With each snowfall and Sun Valley’s amazing snow making, runs seem to open in direct correlation to what my legs can handle.
Bumps on Ridge
Scanning that sweeping 360-degree vista atop Bald Mountain, there is a lot to look forward to. Seattle Ridge is already drenched in white and striped with corduroy. Also looking ahead-of-the-usual-curve-snow-wise are Baldy’s storied bowls. From the perspective of the lift, coverage looked great.
By all accounts, the opening days on Baldy were excellent. Visitors I chatted with couldn’t have been happier. Locals came out in force with their families. And from here, it only gets better and better. Today looks like a great day to ski – time to run!
Five-year-old Scarlett Carruth, part of the Crist skiing dynasty, sums up the mood on the hill
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
If you are a parent who has ever stared down the long tunnel of unstructured hours on a rainy day when your kids are home, then this is for you! It is also for parents who may have spent a busy day skiing or sledding; fishing or hiking or biking, and want an easy family activity to wind down. What could this amazing solution be? Why, bowling of course!
Many people do not know that in the lower level of the storied Sun Valley Lodge, there is a Bowling and Game room. This full-service facility rents shoes and lanes and features a small arcade that kids just love. In fact, children’s birthday parties at the bowling alley are a locals’ favorite.
This vintage pinball machine from 1957 is one of the hidden treasures at Sun Valley's Bowling and Game Room. It isn't available to play, but it sure looks great!
On a rainy, chilly transition-weather kind of day this week (that just so happened to be the day there was no school due to parent-teacher conferences), I took my two favorite second graders to the bowling alley to blow off some steam. With me loudly whispering, “Walk! Walk!” we quickly made our way down one of the Lodge’s plush hallways, surrounded on both sides by wonderful black and white photos documenting the Resort’s rich history and celebrity clientele. Then, with the Salon and Spa just ahead (what a perfect day it would be for a massage and a facial, but no!), we veer down the stairs to the Bowling and Game Room.
Jeremy, whose patience makes bowling with children a pleasure
The boys, who are repeat customers, make a beeline for the counter, or a beeline of sorts that includes a quick lap to see what video games are new. Finally, Jeremy helps me lace fidgety feet into bowling shoes and get the boys to our lane: lucky number six. They laugh so hard they can’t breathe as they try to hoist heavier balls in search of one that is the perfect weight. Without even needing to be asked, Jeremy throws up the bumpers, ensuring a successful and enjoyable bowling experience. Endless gutter balls really aren’t fun. Before it is my turn to throw a strike (ha!), I return to Jeremy once again. If I can’t have a massage, I can at least have a beer.
The Bowling Alley and Game Room isn’t just for kids, though. I went on one memorable date there that was book-ended by drinks in the Duchin Room and dinner at the Ram Restaurant, and my friends and I gather in the brightly lit space a few times a year to enjoy a variation on dinner and a drink or dinner and a movie. Something about hurling a ball down a polished lane while wearing what are perhaps the ugliest shoes ever invented, encourages camaraderie, laughter and a chance to just relax. No bowling skills required.
When we re-emerge into the dusk and drizzle after a few games, I decide to treat the boys to the perfect ending to the afternoon. We stroll through the Sun Valley Village to the Chocolate Foundry, a confectioner that looks and smells exactly like you hope it would. The old fashion store creates handmade treats certain to please everyone in your group. After much debate, my group decides on truffles and fudge, smiling from ear-to-ear.
The Chocolate Foundry feeds every child's sugar fantasy
Whether you are a local or a guest at the Resort, be sure to spend some time at the Bowling and Game Room. It will remind you that sometimes the simplest things are the most satisfying, and sometimes a rainy day is a gift.
On Thursday night, a large, appreciative audience at the Sun Valley Opera House was treated to a night of beautiful music, courtesy of the award-winning Canadian duo Dala. Comprised of best friends Amanda Walther and Sheila Carabine, and armed only with guitars and a piano, Dala wowed with intricate harmonies and angelic melodies.
Dala during the sound check
Dala came to the Wood River Valley courtesy of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts’ performing arts series. The Center’s Kristine Bretall, Director of Marketing and Performing Arts, said their artists really enjoy playing the historic Opera House. “The acoustics are very good and the room has a lot of personality,” she explained.
The sound for the concert was rich and round, so much so that when Amanda and Sheila started to play during their sound check, I literally held my breath. Their gorgeous voices and authentic lyrics go straight to your core.
For sound worthy of the musicians’ talent, thank members of Sun Valley’s Entertainment division. Jay Cutler and his team spent three days getting ready for Dala’s performance. “The Opera House is a multi-use theater,” explained Jay. “But the sound systems are entirely separate for films and for live performances. For concerts, the acoustics are outstanding and the room is tuned for low frequency. It really is state-of-the-art.”
The view from the sound booth
The Opera House, built in 1937, is a 340-seat venue, offering an intimate, unique experience. From the high ceilings to the one-of-a-kind waterfall curtain, the theater is anything but a cookie-cutter auditorium.
Dala talking to a group of high school admirers
When it is only two voices on stage and storytelling is of utmost importance, as was the case with Dala, sound matters – a lot. Their music is very intimate and they use what they call “every tool in their arsenal” to create it. This includes a lot of dynamics, eye contact with the audience and plenty of collaboration. The young women shared their process prior to last night’s concert with a vocal class at Wood River High School during a workshop that was a part of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts’ education and outreach programs. Students were treated to a private performance of numerous songs and asked the singer/songwriters many questions. The overriding message to the class was “take risks.” The artists used their song Levi Blues to illustrate the discussion.
Friendship, family and heritage featured heavily into the evening performance and the audience hung on Amanda and Sheila’s every word — words made crystal clear by the hard work of the behind-the-scenes Entertainment team.
The historic Sun Valley Opera House
If you have never been to a concert at the Opera House, put one on your schedule. Sit back, close your eyes, appreciate the great acoustics and the wonderful old-school ambience.
Sun Valley Center for the Arts will present Matt Andersen, blues man extraordinaire, at the Opera House on January 23, 2013. He is sure to rock the house.
The Valley unfolds below during this short, pretty hike up Baldy
September and October are hands-down my favorite months in the Wood River Valley. I love the shoulder-season feel in town when you can again wave at the driver of nearly every car you pass. I love the mineral smell of the Big Wood River when it’s low and unhurried. Most of all, I love the coin-shaped leaves of the aspens as they turn bright gold and light up the hills. I love the warm Indian summer days and the cool bite of autumn nights. Conventional wisdom holds that people come to Sun Valley for the winter and return because of our amazing summers. If they knew about the fall, they would never leave.
Hiking is the perfect way to capitalize on everything that is so amazing about the season. On a sunshiny September Sunday, I decided to walk up to Lookout on Bald Mountain. This hike is one of my in-town, don’t-have-much-time, but crave-pretty-scenery picks. It is short (1.7 miles each way), and not too steep. The route begins at the base of River Run and wends up the Bald Mountain Trail until it reaches the wooden platform built over the edge of the mountain that is the Lookout.
My hiking buddies were my friend, Chris, and my dog, Annabel. Since Chris is male, I did not expect much of the continuous banter and exchanged confidences that typify any hike I take with my girlfriends. But sometimes that is nice. Hiking in silence provides a great workout – you go faster when you’re not yapping. For me, hiking, like skiing, is a meditation of sorts. The slightly jarring rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other, heel-toe, heel-toe, and the varying pattern of my breath help clear my mind. Altitude is the ultimate mind clearer, too. The famous saying painted onto the roof of Pioneer Cabin (a fabulous hike if you’re looking for one) – The Higher You Get, The Higher You Get – is a self-evident truth. Standing at the edge of the Lookout, with Ketchum spread below and the sublime Pioneer mountain range in the distance, you can’t help but find some peace.
Given the time, from Lookout, I like to keep going up, up, up. The trail leads to Roundhouse (during summer, I usually “reward” myself for the hike with lunch on the deck, and more often that not, a glass of wine) or to the top of the hill. Riding the lift down, it is great fun to see my favorite ski runs bursting with colorful wildflowers and thigh-high vegetation. It makes me appreciate the volume of snowfall it takes to cover all that. And even in the middle of July, it makes me yearn just a bit for ski season. But there is still another good month of hiking left. For now, I will enjoy the ascent and look forward to the descent.
The Lookout platform is a great place to catch your breath
What better way to spend a Saturday night in September?
I am a skier in a ski town. I count the days until the mountain opens and then I count my days on the hill. When the opportunity arose to watch some of the best ski movies of the year at Sun Valley’s The Gathering film festival, I cleared my calendar, grabbed my kids and prepared for a two-hour mental vacation to some of the freshest powder and most spectacular winter scenery imaginable.
The Gathering, a weekend-long celebration of mountain lifestyle attracted a wide cross-section of people, with the common denominator of simply loving to play in the snow. When I arrived Saturday evening, the crowd gathered outside the Opera House broke down as follows: 40 percent middle and high school students (identifiable by their ubiquitous flat-brimmed caps emblazoned with trendy logos), 30 percent families (identifiable by parents and kids sitting together, enjoying the barbecue put on by Sun Valley) and 30 percent 20-somethings (identifiable by the PBR beers in their hands – there was a special, two for $5). Many of my fabulous 25-year-old babysitters were in the latter group, also identifiable by their continuous subtle scan of the crowd in search of pros and filmmakers.
The group was unified, however, in its enthusiasm for the event. I heard the same comments again and again. People appreciated that the festival was geared toward locals, that it appealed to both skiers and snowboarders, that kids wanted to come and that is was so affordable.
Some of the fastest local kids on snow get stoked for ski season
Helping everyone look the part
Inside the theater, as the first of the night’s feature films rolled, The Gathering’s appeal to the younger generation became even more apparent. On the big screen, a snowboarding film by Burton featured in-your-face footage of athletes sliding anything but a regular run. Rails, buildings, downed branches and tunnels all served as terrain.
When the festival’s main attraction, “Sunny,” started the audience ballooned and its composition shifted. Suddenly, the crowd was comprised of about 80 percent middle and high school boys. With this influx, came noise, enthusiasm, a smattering of bad language and whole lot of energy. Everyone was swept up in the epic feats of the athletes on the screen and mentally inserted themselves into those scenes. The brainchild of Josh Berman and Level 1 Productions, “Sunny” was cutting edge enough to please a 16-year-old boy – and his father.
Only about seven weeks remain until the arm of the detachable quads attach and whisk me up the mountain. I can’t wait. My kids can’t wait. Neither can the hundreds of others who attended The Gathering. The countdown has officially begun.
From Mountain Babies to Beach Babies: Mrs. Sun and the Sun family are moving on...
The summer of 2012 was one of the most fun and fulfilling I’ve spent in Sun Valley during my nine years living in this great state of Idaho. And if you don’t believe me just look back over the 40 or so posts I wrote on this blog in the last three months! But sadly, it was to be my last Sun Valley summer. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Sun family are moving on. Family and careers are taking us to another great state, South Carolina, where we will be making our home in the equally historic city of Charleston.
While this is the end of the Sun Valley story for myself and my young family, I will continue to drop in on The Valley Sun blog from time to time, posting on my favorite topic: the history of Sun Valley Resort. (Do please let me know in the comments below if there’s any particular slice of Sun Valley history you’d like to know more about).
Meanwhile, I am putting the reins of The Valley Sun in the more-than-capable hands of Robin Sias. An excellent journalist and local freelance writer, Robin is a mother of three and a Sun Valley resident for close to three decades. I’m sure her family will enjoy showing you the ins and outs, ups and downs and general joys of being in Sun Valley as much as mine have done these past few months.
Many thanks for spending the summer with me and my family, I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. And personally, I’m excited to see what Robin and her brood get up to this winter, so be sure to stay tuned… .
Something strange happened in the mountains around Sun Valley last week. Thousands of desk-bound, city-dwelling workers from across the globe descended on a small alpine lake and threw stones in it. Apparently the number one thing these people want to do with their time is indulge in a somewhat frustrating childhood game that is probably the leading cause of concussion among river otters.
For residents of and regular visitors to the Wood River Valley and its surrounds, this is a somewhat baffling concept. Why would you want to skip a stone across a pond when you could be mountain biking, hiking, white-water rafting, enjoying a schooner at Grumpys or throwing flies at unsuspecting trout? It appears that these thousands of stone-skipping aficionados don’t know what they are missing; they don’t know about Sun Valley. Because they aren’t actually here standing by this picturesque lake in the middle of … (nope – not saying), they’re sitting behind a computer screen in Philadelphia, Chicago, London, Berlin, Bangladesh and over 93 other countries worldwide.
Enter Skippy, the stone-skipping robot. Dreamt up by creative agency, Eleven Inc., Skippy is a marketing initiative that plans to sting those workers bees till they just have to scratch that itch by packing their bags and heading to Sun Valley.
While the number one question among locals was where in the world is Skippy (there really aren’t many lakes in Sun Valley Resort with Devil’s Bedstead in the background), the number one question on the interweb was – is this for real? Well, after some exhaustive investigative reporting, Mrs. Sun can assure you it was (Skippy has been retired for the season after his 5 days in the sun – and rain).
Skippy began life as a clay target thrower who was modified into virtual reality by Eleven Inc.’s resident engineer MDavid Low. See how he came to life in this video:
The robot was loaded into an RV, along with about 2,000lbs of stones, and sent off on a road trip from his birthplace in San Francisco to his Idaho mountain vacation. During his sojourn in Sun Valley he was kept company by Daniel Murphy, director of Interactive Production at Eleven Inc., and his team.
Two guys from San Francisco and a robot in Sun Valley.
“We were on site the entire time,” Daniel said when I chatted to him on the phone yesterday. “One person was continuously monitoring Skippy, making sure he was full of stones and not jamming, that type of thing. Then there was a cameraman - the weather changes so rapidly that we would have to adjust the camera regularly to make sure we were getting the most beautiful views of the area possible. Then I was usually there monitoring the social feeds. People were very engaged, on twitter specifically, and also on Facebook and through email – we were going back and forth with them in real time.”
So what actually happened when someone skipped a stone? ”Well it was all Skippy, it was all automated. We were just there to make sure it didn’t jam. The user would arrive at live video of the environment and sign-up to the queue. Then once it was your turn you could set your angle up or down and do a little gameplay to try and achieve maximum power, then you would see an animation of your settings and then watch your skip go live.”
So Skippy was doing all the hard work, while the team from San Francisco was just there to soak up the atmosphere, chat online (through a satellite system NASA would be proud of) and watch out for otters. ”There were these river otters at the lake – it would have been a PR disaster if one got hit,” Daniel said. “So we would switch a lever whenever one swam by and the servers would put up a Wildlife Crossing error message until the coast was clear again.”
I’m actually speechless. But it looks like Skippy did his job, and then some. Daniel informs me Skippy went viral. Three thousand people skipped stones across the lake in the five short days Skippy was in situ.
“In terms of traffic it blew our minds,” Daniel said. “We’re coming up on close to 500,000 page views to the site, with over 200,000 unique visitors.” Clearly there is an appetite out there for stones in Sun Valley (imported from San Francisco). “When we first opened up the line on Monday morning at 9am there were already 5 people waiting. I knew in my heart after the first hour it was going to be a pretty big success. We watched exponential growth happen through direct referrals on Facebook. Within 10 minutes we had 30 people waiting and after an hour it was close to 200. The line was packed the entire time. I knew, having done this for a while, that once you have that much positive response it’s totally going to snowball, and it did.”
The online media-sphere got on board quickly too, spreading the word through blogging sites such as Huffington Post, MSNBC and The Verge. “One German site drove close to 20,000 visits on the second day alone, we got traffic from 96 countries.”
While the skipping is over, one part of Skippy’s mandate is still live, the chance to win a “Sun Valley summer escape.” Head to skiptown.visitsunvalley.com and pack your getaway car with the top 10 adventures you want to experience in Idaho, then wait until July 31 to find out if you’ll be heading on a dream vacation.
What is Skippy’s future? “He might have the desire to throw snowballs in the winter,” Daniel said. “You never know. We had a lot of people begging to see him again. The desire is out there.”
The Lodge and its surrounds in 1937. This image was found in Averell Harriman's papers at the Library of Congress - you can see the handwritten notes on it detailing plans for the grounds.
When Joe Burgy first laid eyes on Sun Valley Lodge in 1937 he thought to himself, “This is the most horrible looking thing – a dingy brown cement building stuck out in a hayfield surrounded by sagebrush.” The future sports director for the resort just couldn’t imagine what in the world they intended to do with this luxury hotel in the middle of the Idaho wilderness.
The transformation that occurred when Averell Harriman hauled in hundreds of trees from the surrounding mountains to spruce up the sagebrush flats around his million dollar gamble, is a testament to the power of landscaping.
The same view of the Lodge taken in 2012
Fast-forward to 2012 and the old lady was in need of a bit of a facelift. “That first landscaping went in 75 years ago and most of the trees then were collected off the mountain and Trail Creek,” said Mike Turzian, owner of Sun Valley Garden Center and the man in charge of the resort’s horticultural design for more than 35 years. “A lot of those trees have lived their life cycle and are at a point where they can no longer fight off disease. All the trees we removed this year were heavily infected with scale.”
So it’s a case of out with the old and in with the new as the diseased trees make way for approximately 350 young spruce trees, 500 new aspen, 2,000 sprightly shrubs, as well as hundreds of flats of flowers. The resulting look has opened up new views of the Lodge and let light back into the historic building, stripping decades off the grande dame of American skiing.
“It’s definitely brought the architecture of Lodge back as a focal point and not the trees,” said Turzian. The change is quite remarkable. I remember when I first saw Sun Valley Lodge almost a decade ago, I was surprised at how difficult it was to see the wooden facade for the trees. Today the sight is not dissimilar to that Burgy saw all those years ago, but instead of being surrounded by dusty sagebrush, the Lodge now stands tall amidst healthy young trees and the largest planting of flowers ever seen in the valley.
“The impetus for the change was both the age of the existing landscape as well as the goal of bringing it back to the standards Mr. Holding so enjoyed, when he first took charge of the resort.”
According to Turzian, in his younger years Mr. Earl Holding loved tending to the landscaping, sometimes working side-by-side with the gardeners. “It was definitely his recreation,” Turzian said. “Holding used to insist we wait until he arrived to start and would stay until the end of the day.”
Mike Turzian and his landscaping crew hard at work around the resort. More than 75 people are working on the project, which is estimated to be completed in 2014
However horticultural historians need not despair, some of the oldest trees still remain. “The big trees on each side of the Lodge, and on the north side of the Inn were probably moved here by Harriman when they were 10 feet at the most. Now they are approaching 120 feet,” Turzian said. That could make them over 100 years old.
Going forward, the biggest challenge for Turzian and his crew is trying to create some diversity in the landscape using the minimal amount of northern hardy nursery stock available to them. It’s a tough job in a climate that routinely drops to -20. But the fresh look has also presented an opportunity to modernize. The new landscaping has been designed to minimize water use through installing more efficient sprinkler heads and a drip system, as well as selecting more drought tolerant plants, all while still maintaining the setting worthy of this special place.
Here are some images I snapped around the Lodge since the transformation began this spring. But don’t take my word for it, come up and see for yourself.