Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Snowfall buries Baldy

Ski area receives more than 2 feet over weekend


By JON DUVAL
Express Staff Writer

After seeing almost nothing but blue skies since the first weekend in January, Bald Mountain received a welcome refresher, as weekend storms deposited nearly 3 feet of new snow from Friday night to Monday morning.

According to Sun Valley Co.'s Bald Mountain report, 33 inches of powder fell during the three-day span, with nearly two-thirds coming down Sunday night.

This brought snowfall for the season up to 150.5 inches.

While the fresh snow led to plenty of skiers willing to wait in line for over an hour on Monday morning for the lifts, which didn't start running until around 10:15 a.m., it made for an early start to a busy day for the ski patrol and lift mechanics.

"One storm gave us two days of snow control," said lift mechanic Caleb Baukol, who had to be at the mechanic's shop by 6 a.m. on both Monday and Tuesday for a "control morning."

Baukol said the lift mechanics' early arrival is necessary to check the chairlifts and get them running so that the ski patrol can move around the mountain to carry out the proper safety procedures, such as throwing bombs, before the mountain opens for guests.

"We were pretty much shoveling from 6 in the morning until noon just to clear out the knee-deep snow at the top and bottom of the lifts," Baukol said.

With such a large amount of new snow on top of a snowpack still weak from the previous storm, there was plenty of activity on Baldy, enough to keep the bowls from opening until Tuesday morning.

Baukol reported seeing avalanche debris at the bottom of River Run, the snow having come off the rocky, south-facing slopes to the skier's left of the actual ski run.

As well, he said there was a significant slide that buried the counterweight and a small shack at the bottom of the Sunnyside chairlift, all of which had to be dug out before they could start operating the lift.

"It's like bricks on potato chips," said Rich Bingham, snow specialist and assistant director of the Sun Valley Ski Patrol. "There's a lot of wet, heavier snow sitting on crust layers."

Bingham said the storm came in cold and warmed up about a third of the way through, leading to an increase in the intensity of the wind and dramatically changing the loading pattern. With the amount of moisture in Sunday's storm much greater than that of Friday's snowfall, Bingham said, that layering further added to the instability.

"It's one reason it was pretty wild all across the county," he said.

With storms predicted to persist in the area throughout the week, Bingham said, it's impossible to predict when the pack might stabilize, as it will depend on a number of factors, including wind, temperature and terrain.

"I'm hoping for the best, but looking for the worst," he said.

After last season's relatively meager snowfall, skiers and snowboarders are hopeful this new snow will mean fun until springtime.

Mark Baumgardner, owner of Sun Valley Heli Ski Guides, said that while the storm halted his heliski operation for at least a few days, once it's safe to go back up and into the backcountry, the skiing will be excellent for some time.

"A stormy week will keep up the avalanche danger, but the snow on the ground will lead to a fantastic remainder of the season" Baumgardner said. "Right now we're just dusting off the helicopter and taking our avalanche dog teams to some of the homes that have been hit."




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