Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Baldy is a work of art

     In the winter of drought in 1976-77, a bumper-sticker badge of courage emerged among skiers. It said, “I skied Squirrel.”

     That year, the popular Flying Squirrel run was the topmost run open on Baldy. Snow was scarce and snowmaking was only just emerging as an antidote.

     2014 is not 1977. This season, because of the foresight and investment of Sun Valley Resort and deceased owner Earl Holding, Baldy is truly a work of art. Skiing is not just OK, it’s good on the main runs.

     Unbeknownst to most Baldy adherents and casual visitors, the secret to Sun Valley skiing during an off-snow winter like this one lies in a gray building tucked away in a grove of evergreens about halfway down the mountain. In a small room, a computer control panel tracks the air temperature and relative humidity at the tip of the nozzle of hundreds of snow guns on all of the main runs.

     The computer’s digital map reveals that Baldy is much more than an ordinary ski mountain. It’s a technological marvel.

     On the computer screen, the system of pumps and pipes that carry water uphill and deliver it to each snow gun looks like a rough fisherman’s net cast over the entire ski area. The snowmaking crew members are experienced baristas who adjust the mix of water and air at each nozzle to produce different kinds of snow. Their recipes are superb.

     The snow baristas like the snow they make better than the stuff from Mother Nature. They particularly like “construction” snow, which acts as a sturdy base layer for the snowcats whose drivers shape and smooth the runs into their speciality, the magic carpet of frozen white corduroy beloved by the generations of skiers that love smooth cruising.

     The investment of the resort and the efforts of these mountain artists ensure that the only bumper sticker that might emerge this year is “We ♥ Baldy.”

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