Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Baldy ski conditions defy trend

While greater Northwest suffers, Sun Valley boasts good snow coverage


By GREGORY FOLEY
Express Staff Writer

Ski conditions on Sun Valley's Bald Mountain have been favorable in recent weeks, despite warm weather that has crippled other ski areas in the Northwest. Photo by Willy Cook

As ski areas across the Northwest try desperately to recover from a three-week warm spell that wreaked havoc on snow conditions, Sun Valley Resort has come out way ahead of the curve.

"In the Northwest, we're definitely in better shape than anybody," said Jack Sibbach, Sun Valley director of marketing and public relations. "This has been an issue for the entire region."

Indeed, most major ski areas in Washington's Cascade Mountains—including Crystal Mountain and Mount Baker—are temporarily closed until conditions improve.

At Stevens Pass ski area, northeast of Seattle, managers have posted a Web site message that tells the story of the region's woes: "Still suspended operations! We have not given up on winter yet!"

And from Mount Hood Meadows, east of Portland, Ore., a similar message was conveyed: "Lift operations suspended, at least through Tuesday, Feb. 1 ... Hang in there. Think snow!"

Similar themes are repeated elsewhere.

At Whistler-Blackcomb, in British Columbia, Canada, the snow report Tuesday stated that "crews are working tirelessly around the clock to improve conditions ... Mid to lower mountain conditions remain a challenge, with above-freezing temperatures hampering rebuilding efforts."

The warm weather, which came after an immense storm dumped 38 inches of snow on Sun Valley's Bald Mountain from Jan. 7 to Jan. 10, has also had a significant impact on Idaho resorts.

Schweitzer Mountain, north of Sandpoint, closed for a period in late January but has since reopened.

Ski areas in southern Idaho have managed to stay open but have lost significant amounts of snow, with temperature inversions bringing cold air to lower elevations and warm air to higher points in the mountains.

In mid January, Sun Valley's snow base peaked at a depth of 109 inches at the summit. On Tuesday, the resort reported a summit snow depth of 68 inches.

In late January, Sibbach said, daytime temperatures at the summit of Bald Mountain were sometimes 20 degrees warmer than at the base, where temperatures often lingered above freezing.

"We have lost a lot of snow and that's obviously a concern," Sibbach said. "But the quality of the snow we have is excellent."

Despite the loss of snow, Sun Valley has maintained a base equal to or greater than those at other regional resorts.

Tamarack Resort, near McCall, on Tuesday reported a 43-inch base at mid-mountain, while Jackson Hole Resort—in western Wyoming—reported a mid-mountain base of 53 inches. Sun Valley reported that its mid-mountain snow depth was 55 inches Tuesday.

Ski conditions have also been marginal in many parts of Colorado, although snowstorms in the last week have brought relief. Last week, Aspen Mountain reported a mid-mountain snow depth of only 38 inches. By Tuesday, the figure had climbed to 42 inches.

By and large, Sun Valley skiers have reported that conditions on Bald Mountain are very good, especially on groomed runs and areas that benefit from snowmaking. Mountain crews in recent days have been taking advantage of colder temperatures to make snow in selected areas.

Nonetheless, Sibbach said, Sun Valley has had to work diligently to get the word out that it has not suffered the same setbacks as other resorts.

"People in Seattle, one of our major markets, just aren't thinking about snow right now," Sibbach said. "If they don't see it, they don't feel it, then they don't think about it."

Sun Valley in recent weeks has spent $35,000 advertising to Seattle-area residents that Bald Mountain has ample snow and favorable conditions, he noted.

So far, the broader perception that the entire Northwest is suffering from a lack of snow has not had a severe impact on Sun Valley's business.

Sibbach said Sun Valley in January tallied approximately 88,600 skier visits, up from approximately 87,600 in January 2004.

For the season to date, Sun Valley has tallied just over 180,000 skier visits, compared to approximately 178,900 during the same period last season.

"I'm fairly optimistic about mid February and March," Sibbach said. "If we can get a little help from Mother Nature, I'm sure we'll have a good finish to the season."

Although cold weather has returned to Idaho, the National Weather Service has predicted predominantly dry weather will prevail until the weekend, when snow is possible.




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