I must admit, “pulling up” in front of Roundhouse Restaurant in the world’s biggest snow cat, “the BEAST,” is as close to feeling like a rock star as this forty-something mother of three has gotten in a long, long time. When we parked near the stairs leading up to the famed restaurant, the door swung open and I stepped, drenched in spotlights and dusted with a light flurry of snow, onto the mammoth treads. I paused for a moment taking it all in: the brightly lit restaurant festooned for the holidays, Ketchum’s lights twinkling far below, the massive and alien-looking snow cat beneath my feet. I extended my hand, reaching for that of the gracious gondola greeter and, I hope, leapt gracefully to the ground. What a ride.
The experience began hours earlier, before evening fell like a blanket over Baldy. At 4 p.m., I reported to the daily groomer’s meeting as one of the first lucky people this season to get a ride on the fabled BEAST. You, too, can partake of the story you are about to read by entering your name for weekly raffle drawings that allow guests to watch the country’s best grooming team at work, all from the driver’s vantage point.
At the meeting, I began to understand why our mountain has a reputation for the best grooming anywhere. The swing shift, on duty from 4 p.m. to midnight, is comprised of seasoned pros who work the seven cats. The graveyard shift takes over from midnight to 8 a.m., ensuring the best snow surface possible for the 9 a.m. open. The group, all men, spoke in a dialect with which I am not familiar, discussing feathering, tilling, pushing and winching. Foremost on the mind of Grooming Manager Kerry O’Brien, however, was the huge winter storm expected to hit Ketchum Monday.
The light decorative flurries falling Saturday afternoon may have been a portent of great things to come, but for me, they set just the right mood for my adventure. I met Charlie Kucher, a grooming supervisor and my driver/confidante for the evening, right before I met the Prinoth BEAST. I liked both right away. As Charlie advised me to (not so gracefully) hoist myself into the BEAST’s cabin, I was immediately impressed. That cat is huge. Weighing in at a few mature elephants, and featuring a back tiller that is four-feet wider than traditional cats, this 520- horsepower, half-a-million dollar machine is a sight to behold. Once Charlie switched her on and maneuvered out of the oversized garagery at the bottom of River Run, the BEAST began to climb the mountain like it was taking a leisurely stroll. No gasping for breath here.
Seated comfortably in the space-age cockpit, Charlie worked the levers and buttons that raise the blade (the plow-looking grill in the front that cuts the snow), and the tiller in the back (that processes the surface and leaves nice lines of corduroy), like the conductor of a large orchestra. We traversed the mountain on the aptly named cat tracks until we reached the top of Warm Springs. There, we (not really we, Charlie) dipped the blade of the Beast over the edge of the trail and off we went, pointing straight down Warm Springs, as the lights below began to flicker on.
As we chatted about family, Charlie’s past life (commercial fisherman, chef), his passion for skiing and why he loves his job (teamwork among all the mountain operations departments), tempus fugit. Up and down Warm Springs we journeyed, from I-80 to the Lodge where Charlie showed off some pretty sweet u-turns. I knew on Sunday I would be proud to ski the run I watched Charlie so meticulously and lovingly groom.
Then it was off to Roundhouse – a vintage jewel tucked into snowy folds of fabric at 7,700 feet above sea level. I intended to hop on the gondola and return to my non rock-star life, but Roundhouse beckoned. Saturday was the first night dinner was being served and the restaurant was full and festive. Not needing much convincing, I grabbed a seat at the new rustic wooden bar and soon had the distinction of being the first guest to be served dinner there. The food, the bartenders Mike and Matt, and the ambiance were the perfect nightcap to an amazing afternoon.
To enter the raffle so you, too, can have this once-in-a-lifetime experience, you need only fill out a free entry form on Ipads available at the Sun Valley Recreation Center in the Village or at the River Run Ticket Office. One winner will be chosen to ride every Friday and Saturday night throughout the season and dinner at Roundhouse may be combined with the ride, space permitting (and with L’Addition the guest’s responsibility). Winners are announced a day prior and must be 18 years old. Please call 622-2135 for more information.