Friday, November 25, 2011

Catch some air and meet some bears

Sun Valley Resortís new features target youth, families

Express Staff Writer

Prepare for powder! Sun Valley Co. has opened up 30 new acres of gladed skiing on Bald Mountain, just one of many exciting new features coming to the world of snow sports at the resort. Photo courtesy Sun Valley Resort

As Sun Valley Resort celebrates its 75th birthday this December, the venerable resort and her erstwhile mountains are being pulled firmly in to the 21st century. The 2011-12 winter sees a raft of changes coming to the two old favorites: Bald and Dollar mountains.

After two seasons of dangling a toe in the terrain park waters, this season finds Dollar Mountain's slopes fully submersed.

"We now have over 50 rails and jibs to choose from and we will have up to four jumps," said Brian Callahan, Sun Valley's terrain park manager.

But the really big news in Callahan's world is that the halfpipe is moving off Baldy and into Dollar Mountain's Old Bowl.

"We've been trying to move the pipe over here for three years now—it's a better spot for it for competition and for programs," he said.

The Breckenridge, Colo., terrain park alum has been in the park industry for 15 years, and his considerable knowledge and skill are helping the grande dame of resorts cast off its cozy grandma image among snow sport's youth demographic.

"The youth market drive is the business plan of the terrain park," he said. "Without one, Johnny from Minnesota is not going to want to come to Sun Valley. The majority of people skiing today are under 35 years old. So Sun Valley made a business decision to move forward with the terrain park program and they've come running out of the gates full speed."

The terrain park has nestled in the comforting folds of Dollar Mountain—along with Proctor, one of Sun Valley's two original skiing mountains—for two years now, and while it was not quite up to the levels demanded of its creator, it has still been a big success.

"Within the two years, we've been published in 10 magazines, we've accomplished seven photo shoots and we've started a core rail jam series called the Lunar Eclipse Rail Jam series," Callahan said.

This season the rail jam will be held April 7, in conjunction with Dollar Days.

For those unfamiliar with a terrain park, Callahan explains that it's like a skateboarding park "or what you'd see in the X-Games." If you don't know what the X-Games are, then it's probably best to stick to Baldy.

"Our terrain park has the quality offerings of an X-Games course," Callahan said, pointing out that it was selected as a location by Level 1 Productions for its 2011 film "After Dark."

The hip skiing filmmakers also chose to feature Sun Valley's park in their 2010 film "Eye Trip."

The terrain park isn't just for highly skilled tricksters, however.

"We encourage all levels to go in," Callahan said. "The terrain park staff will educate you."

And if you need a little more help, Sun Valley Ski School is offering a new program this season called Sundays in the Park, in which riders (intermediate and above) can get one-on-one park coaching. Call 622-2289 to sign up.

Other exciting offerings on Dollar include the world-class cross course. Skiers, boarders and telemarkers looking for a new form of excitement will enjoy barreling down this feature, which is one of only a handful in the country. The course features rollers, jumps and berms.

Use of all the terrain park features is included in the cost of a lift ticket.

Bald Mountain bears up

For those dedicated to Baldy, especially those with children who don't fancy a slow day on Dollar or twisting their limbs into incredible positions on the terrain park, Baldy offers up an interesting alternative this year—adventure trails.

Targeted at ages 6-12, these newly cut gladed runs, like those popular at other Western resorts, are pitch-perfect for youngsters as they bisect and rejoin many of the mountain's main runs, offering children alternative routes from those of their parents.

"We've been working with the concept of kid-specific skiing zones on Baldy for some time" said Tony Parkhill, director of mountain guest services for the resort. "So we embarked on this ambitious project last spring."

They created six trails on the mountain at different ability levels. The trails are themed and can be found in the River Run, Warm Springs and Seattle Ridge drainages.

"The themes give it more of a kid's flavor and also include interpretive content," Parkhill said.

The resort worked with several different historical and interpretive agencies to create the trails, and each is named and themed along those lines.

On Seattle Ridge, the green Red-Headed Woodpecker trail leaves lower Christin's Silver and runs about 250 yards through the woods on a wide trail, free of obstacles or jumps.

"It cuts through the home of the pileated woodpeckers, which are very active in that area," Parkhill said.

The entrances to all the adventure trails are clearly marked with rustic signs featuring hand-carved replicas of the trails' namesakes, and the exits are clearly delineated points of reunion.

"The idea is the family could ski down Christin's and the kids could go into the forest on the Woodpecker trail and rejoin their parents at the bottom," Parkhill said.

Each trail is newly created, but the resort took care to remain true to the character of the forest.

"We tried to be super sensitive to what's naturally there," Parkhill said. "We looked for lines that required the least amount of clearing and a minimal amount of cutting. We wanted to leave them as natural as possible."

There are six trails in all: the Red-Headed Woodpecker, Huckleberry Bear in the Olympic area, (a green run, named in honor of the family of bears that habituate the area), Foxy Forest (blue) off Upper Can-Can, Flume Trail (blue) below Lilly Marlane—between AuJus and French Connection—and two more, Upper and Lower Red-tailed Hawk, located on Lower Warm Springs.

Another new feature on Baldy is expanded gladed terrain, close to 30 acres of it. Parkhill said the resort has recommitted to glading the mountain—a process of creating an environment in a wooded area that invites skiing and riding by removing obstructions (such as deadfall and underbrush and some trees). The process is actually healthy for the mountain and the resort works with the U.S. Forest Service to ensure that it's done in the best possible manner.

"Now in the Old Olympic, the Olympic Ridge area, you can clearly see the skiable lines, and it's fantastic," he said. "We also did quite a bit of clearing on Lower Central Park—it's been regladed and we continued it out below Roundhouse Lane into the Sunnyside area."

Another spot newly opened up this year is between the Challenger lift line and Limelight down to I-80.

But it's Baldy biggest addition that gets Parkhill the most excited: The Beast 2.

"Last year we got a huge grooming cat, substantially larger than what we usually groom with. We called it The Beast. It changed the way we manage the mountain."

This year The Beast gets a mate, plus two Bisons (slightly smaller rigs—one of which is earmarked for the terrain park). For those who want to get a look at and possibly even a ride on The Beast, keep an eye out for a continuation of last year's weekly raffle—the grand prize is a ride with a groomer on the machine.

Pray for snow!

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