Friday, December 7, 2012

Resort opens more terrain on Baldy

Storms bring above-average early conditions

Express Staff Writer

A skier turns through fresh snow on the Warm Springs side of Bald Mountain on Wednesday. Sun Valley Co. opened more terrain this week in the bowls and scheduled opening the Seattle Ridge area before Christmas week. Photo by David N. Seelig

For the second winter in a row, Sun Valley has some of the best early-season snow conditions in the West.

Baldy’s bowls opened on Thursday, earlier than normal after a bout of snowstorms.

“It’s mid-winter conditions out there,” Sun Valley Co. spokesman Jack Sibbach said. “Go out and enjoy it!”

Sibbach said the resort’s usual goal for opening the bowls is Christmas.

“Normally, eight out of 10 years, we get the bowls open for Christmas,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t have them open by then, because it’s all natural snow.”

But followers of Sun Valley Co.’s Facebook page—which has consistently posted pictures of skiers enjoying fresh powder since last weekend’s storm—know there was plenty of snow to go around this year. The resort is reporting a total snowfall of 80 inches so far this season. The Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center stated in a release Thursday morning that the snow depth at the top of Bald Mountain was 49 inches, roughly 37 inches of which was from a three-day storm last weekend. 

Sibbach said all terrain openings are way ahead of schedule.

“I tried to look back in our records to see if we’d ever opened [the bowls] earlier,” he said. “Our records don’t go back that far.”

However, the unusual amount of snow was both blessing and bane to the ski area, as the snow coupled with wind-loading caused a slide in Lookout Bowl on Sunday afternoon.

Sun Valley Ski Patrol Snow Safety Director Rich Bingham said earlier this week that the patrol had been out conducting explosive stability tests in the bowls to determine when they would be safe to open to the public. Sibbach said that the patrollers continued to work throughout the week.

“They did throw a lot of bombs in there,” he said, adding that patrollers also dug avalanche pits to determine if there were weak layers in the snowpack and skied the runs in ways that would shock the snowpack into sliding if there was instability.

“We would never open the bowls unless they were safe,” he said. “Our No. 1 priority is safety.”

The Mayday Lift also opened Thursday. Seattle Ridge and the Seattle Ridge Day Lodge will open next Friday, Dec. 14. Dollar Mountain’s Quarter and Half Dollar lifts and moving carpet are expected to open Saturday, along with Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge.

Bingham said the Lookout Bowl slide caused minor damage to one chair on the Seattle Ridge lift, but it has been fixed. However, Sibbach said that while there is enough snow on Seattle Ridge to open it this weekend, Sun Valley Co. has not seen enough demand to justify opening the runs yet.

“It’s a management decision,” he said. “There are not enough guests here, and there’s more than enough to ski.”

Not only does Sun Valley have more than enough to ski, it has received more snow this year than almost any other resort in the Rockies. Jackson Hole in Wyoming states on its website that it has received 107 inches of snow and has a 52-inch snow depth on the summit. However, it has opened only 23 of its 116 runs and three of its 12 chairlifts. The resort plans to open its aerial tram Sunday.

Alta, Utah, is the only other ski area in the Rockies to best Baldy’s snowfall, at 89 inches for a season total to date. It is scheduled to open Saturday.

Leslie Wanek, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Western Region, said the recent storms pummeled the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California with rain, dropped little snow on the Wasatch in Utah and missed Colorado entirely.

“You guys in Idaho got some of the best amounts,” Wanek said.

She said pouring rain raised the level of Lake Tahoe by 5.5 inches, but the snow level began early in the series of storms at about 7,500 feet and rose to about 9,000 feet.

“It was a really warm system,” she said. “It was rain, rain and more rain.”

On Thursday, Squaw Valley in California was reporting a summit snow depth of 62 inches and a base depth of only 4 inches.

Snow continues to be scarce in Colorado. Aspen reports a snow depth of only 19 inches on top and “man-made” conditions.

On Thursday, Snowbird in Utah reported its tram open with 34 of 94 runs open and a 30-inch snow depth on top.

Wanek said the recent storms went south of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and Washington, but that region is poised to get walloped with a foot or two of snow by a cold storm moving in from the northwest. She said northern Idaho and Montana should also benefit from that storm. On Thursday, Crystal Mountain in Washington was reporting a summit snow depth of 50 inches and a base snow depth of 25 inches.

Wanek said normal temperatures and precipitation should prevail in the Sun Valley area over the next week or so. That means some snow is forecast, but nothing to get excited about.

Kate Wutz:

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