Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Guided ‘sidecountry’ skiing an excellent idea

Even as local businesses are gnawing their fingernails to the quick wondering if they'll survive another winter, a proposal by local guide companies to provide guided out-of-bounds skiing on Baldy has generated a powder storm of protest.

People protesting that Baldy's "sidecountry" powder runs should be reserved for in-the-know locals need a crash remedial course on what business we're in.

The Sun Valley area is in the entertainment business. Every man, woman and child here depends on the success of that business. In the entertainment business, we don't manufacture tangible goods; we manufacture good experiences and warm memories that visitors carry with them throughout their lives. We put them in touch with nature and with a different way of being in the world.

Every business, every job and every home in the valley, including vacation homes, depend on us being good at what we do. Even in good times, that's not easy. That's particularly hard these days with the area continuing to be beaten black and blue by harsh economic conditions.

It's time to be resourceful. Broadening the experiences available to visitors can only help the local economy. Making lift-served sidecountry skiing available would be a good way to appeal to another segment of the skiing/boarding public.

It would also be good a way to increase the safety of visitors—and wise locals—who're tempted to follow the under-the-ropes tracks that point the way to out-of-bounds terrain.

Guide services would bring geographic knowledge, avalanche safety techniques and good sense to expeditions that otherwise may pose great risks to the unwary and the uninformed. In other words, it could help skiers and boarders avoid getting lost or crushed or even prevent them from going out-of-bounds in hazardous conditions.

It's important to remember that Baldy's sidecountry is no one's private Idaho. The public that's requested guide services in the sidecountry are part-owners of the public lands of which Baldy is a part.

The mountain is controlled by the U.S. Forest Service. The areas proposed for guided runs are not wilderness areas. At least one area may some day see full lift services. The public has as much right to slide the sidecountry as any full-time, powder-obsessed local.

Forest Service officials will soon decide whether to permit guide services to operate on Baldy's flanks. They should not be swayed by those who want to keep the skiing to themselves. The decision should be based primarily on safety with an eye to the value-added benefits guided sidecountry skiing could bring to visitors and locals alike.

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