Friday, November 23, 2007

Glades and River Run gondola are good steps forward

Mountain resorts have different personalities. Some are shy and quiet and prefer to keep their assets known only to those who make a big effort to find them.

Some are trendy like people who sport tattoos and pierced body parts. Some are retro and refuse to embrace high-speed lifts or snowboards.

Sun Valley is elegant—with attitude. The mother of all U.S. ski resorts is sunny and energetic. Its mountain is fast and skiers like her that way.

That won't change with the U.S. Forest Service's approval of the first phase of a plan that will guide future development of Sun Valley Resort's Bald Mountain. The plan will only enhance the mountain's already distinctive personality.

The Forest Service elected to approve development of glade skiing/boarding off Guyer Ridge on the Warm Springs side of the mountain—a good decision. Another alternative was to cut a new run along the long ridgeline, which is nearly knife-edged in some places. It would have needed extensive bulldozing and contouring of the ridge to become useable for mid-level skiers and boarders.

Glade skiing, also known as tree skiing, is hard to find on Baldy today—unless you're a skinny kid with no fear of slipping between Douglas firs that grow just inches from one another.

Areas with widely spaced trees are magical. Cleared spaces reduce the risk of accidental encounters with evergreens and leg-breaking stumps, slash and rocks that can lurk below snow level. On the right day, glade skiing is a kind of alpine meditation—peaceful and healing for the rushed and stressed modern soul.

As the new plan unfolds, Baldy will also see gondolas installed at River Run. In the old days, the weather-protection system on ski lifts was a heavy canvas wrap that hung from a gate-like footrest. Comfortable gondolas will open up access to Baldy and its cozy lodges to more people than just active skiers and boarders. That's important to the area's development as a family-friendly resort.

A long-awaited terrain park to be developed in the Frenchman's area near Janss Pass also will help that image as well as help expand the narrowing ranges of hair color in Baldy's lift lines.

Though not part of the new plan for Baldy's public lands, Sun Valley Co. is also batting around plans to construct a gondola that would run from the resort to the town of Ketchum and then to Baldy. Not only would the thing be fun and convenient, it could again brand Sun Valley as a must-visit destination for vacationers looking for a unique mountain-town experience.

The first phase of the new plan for Baldy is a good step forward.

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