Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Season ends with kick-in-the-pants skiing

Skier numbers on par with last several years

Express Staff Writer

Gettin? his groove on ?80s style, Roger Marble donned some neon for the annual end-of-season street party in Warm Springs Village on sunny Saturday afternoon. Photo by Willy Cook

The closing weekend of skiing on Bald Mountain was a study in contrasts.

On Saturday, sunshine flooded the mountain while 2,507 skiers and snowboarders shredded the ever-softening slopes. On Sunday, slate-colored clouds cloaked Baldy while 1,082 skiers and riders boarded lifts at River Run and Warm Springs.

The constant, however, was the superlative skiing and festive atmosphere on both days. The fun-slaying locals and imaginative ski outfits they wore were something to behold.

Ketchum resident Ben Mackay, who is moving later this month to Montana, bid Baldy farewell on Saturday by wearing his grandmother's old green and black checkered suit, which he found in her attic.

"It's a little snug," he said with a shrug. The ankles of the pants looked like floods against his three-pin bumblebee boots.

Ketchum resident Blake Eagle wore a black one-piece suit with more than 100 tennis balls uniquely attached using nuts and bolts. As he boarded the lift at River Run, he said he could get a little massage if he sat just right and wiggled.

"I'm getting a little tired," he said. "This thing's heavier than it looks."

Still another skier made his final descent Saturday afternoon in his birthday suit. As he skated across the summit from the Lookout Restaurant, a crowd swept in his wake to watch him disappear over the horizon beneath the Challenger quad chair lift.

All told, the final weekend was a fine cap to a good season with considerably below-average snowfall.

Including snowmaking, the snowfall at Baldy's summit added up to 200 inches, said resort spokesman Jack Sibbach. The figure, he said, represented an average snowfall on Baldy.

But natural snowpacks in the Wood River Valley are considerably below normal levels, at about 60 percent of average.

That doesn't mean there wasn't good skiing this winter.

"For a three-week period in January, Baldy was on fire," said Sun Valley Ski Patrol Assistant Director Rich Bingham. "That's what I still patrol for."

The lower bowls, which include some of Baldy's more interesting expert terrain, opened Sunday, Jan. 2. For several hours that morning, face shots came easy in Lower Christmas Bowl and on Inhibition and Guntower Ridge.

The following weekend, skiers on Baldy saw some of the most memorable powder days in recent years. On Saturday, Jan. 8, eager skiers waited in lift lines that snaked around the mountain's bases as ski patrollers launched explosives to trigger avalanches in 24 inches of new snow.

When the mountain opened an hour and a half late, skiers became bogged down in the deep snow on the mountain's moderate slopes. Only the steepest—Exhibition, the south slopes and upper Limelight—were easily navigable at first.

"It's been quite a long time since we've seen that," Bingham said after the storm. "A two-foot storm overnight is few and far between."

The following day, Mother Nature freshened the mountain up yet again with another foot of light snow, and the skiing on Sunday, Jan. 9, was said by many to be the best of the year.

As the final minutes of the ski season ticked away, Bingham got off the Christmas lift on top of Baldy. He looked at the clock: 3:40 p.m. "I guess I've ridden my last," he said, and trailed off to find his colleagues to perform a final sweep of the mountain.

For Sibbach, who lives and breathes skier numbers, ticket sales and lodge bookings, Sun Valley might have achieved something close to its maximum potential for skier days.

"It was a fair year for skier count. It was a good year for Sun Valley," he said. "I don't foresee our skier count getting a whole lot better unless there is an anomaly with a snow year or if our accessibility gets better."

Sibbach said it should be obvious that the dismal snow year in the Cascades affected local skier days by thinning visits from the Northwest. He said flights between Seattle and Sun Valley were down 10 percent this season.

Finally, Sibbach trailed into a few comments about the coming golf season and how Sun Valley would open its links by the end of the month. As he did, snow started to fall, and the Central Idaho weather forecast indicated that up to 6 inches of snow would fall in the mountains around Sun Valley in the coming days.

Season skier numbers

'04-'05—386,908 144-day season
'03-'04—384,897 145-day season
'02-'03—365,267 146-day season
'01-'02—405,563 143-day season
'00-'01—394,568 151-day season
'99-'00—376,000 151-day season

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