Friday, April 7, 2006

Wild weather wallops Baldy

Sun Valley records lowest daily skier count Wednesday

Express Staff Writer

Mother Nature threw a wrench Wednesday into a ski season that has been labeled as one of the best in the history of Sun Valley Resort.

High winds, steady precipitation and lightning prompted Sun Valley mountain managers to shut down most of Bald Mountain, leading to what appears to be a new record-low skier count for a single day in the resort's modern era. Most of Bald Mountain had reopened by late Thursday morning.

Jack Sibbach, Sun Valley director of sales, marketing and public relations, said a mere 94 people skied Wednesday on Bald and Dollar mountains combined. Only 83 skiers were counted at Bald Mountain, Sibbach said, while the count at Dollar Mountain was 11.

"It's the lowest number I remember in the last 28 years," he said.

All of the lifts on Bald Mountain were shut down Wednesday except for the sheltered Greyhawk chair lift on the Warm Springs side of the mountain. Sibbach said the decision was made primarily to ensure the safety of the resort's guests. Approximately 40 mile-per-hour winds that gusted to 64 mph, lightning and a soggy combination of rain and snow that saturated the existing snowpack all posed potential hazards to skiers, Sibbach said.

"All those things came into a decision by the ski patrol."

Perhaps the most serious concern was the lightning, Sibbach said, which forced into play numerous measures to protect public safety.

Precipitation was heavy at times. The lower half of Baldy was doused with rain while the top half of the mountain received snow. The resort reported Thursday that the top portion of Baldy had received 17 inches of snow in the previous three days, bringing the summit snow depth to 112 inches. The reported snow depth at the base Thursday was 58 inches.

The new snow brought the total snowfall for the 2005-2006 season to 329 inches, far in excess of the average accumulation.

Despite the record-low skier count Wednesday, Sun Valley is still on pace to have one of its busiest ski seasons since the 1996-1997 season, when the resort recorded 436,292 skier days.

Through Wednesday, Sun Valley had recorded 393,561 skier days, a number that has already surpassed last season's tally of just under 387,000.

Sibbach said he expects this season's final skier-day count to fall between 410,000 and 415,000.

"It all, of course, is so weather dependent," he said.

Bald Mountain is scheduled to stay open for skiing and snowboarding through Sunday, April 23. Dollar Mountain is scheduled to close Sunday, April 16.

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