Friday, May 23, 2014

Baldy recreation to get even better

Sun Valley expands projects for multi-season use

Express Staff Writer

A mountain-bike racer speeds down Bald Mountain during competition in the Ride Sun Valley bike festival last year. Sun Valley Resort officials said they are working to boost the resortís status as a mountain-biking venue. Express file photo

     Though it’s already known for state-of-the-art snowmaking and superb grooming, Sun Valley Resort is not resting on its laurels.

     On Wednesday, the resort announced extensive summer projects on Bald Mountain to increase snowmaking efficiency, cut more glade-skiing areas and build two new mountain-biking trails. The mountain’s first flow trail, built last summer, will be opened to riders in early July.

     Crews will also remove the Flying Squirrel chairlift, damaged in a fire last winter, on the Warm Springs side of the mountain.

     Mountain Department Manager Tony Parkhill said snowmaking and trail-maintenance improvements will coincide with an increased emphasis on hosting high-level alpine racing events.

     Parkhill said the resort began a project last summer to each year modify 50 to 60 of its arsenal of 560 automated snowmaking guns to make them more energy-efficient and to make snow at higher temperatures. He said recent technological improvements allow the guns to use less compressed air and therefore more water with the same amount of electricity. More water equals more snow.

     “We want to produce the most snow we can with the least air,” he said.

     Parkhill said the system’s computer will tell mountain managers which gun locations will benefit most from modifications to allow them to make snow at a temperature closer to freezing.

     He said those changes will help Baldy open earlier in November for race camps that were inaugurated in 2011 and are scheduled for next year with more participants. He said extensive early snowmaking also puts down a good base that improves conditions in the late season.

     Better snow security will contribute to the success of racing events such as the Spring Series and Masters National Championships, scheduled for March 2015, and the U.S. Alpine Ski Championships in 2016 and 2018.

     “They’re very much a part of what we’re promoting as our alpine heritage,” Parkhill said.

     Skiing and boarding will also be improved by forest thinning and removing deadfall on about 100 acres this summer along Upper Warm Springs and between Janss Pass and Graduate runs in the Frenchman’s area. The goal is to create more glade skiing and improve forest health. The multi-year project is being conducted in cooperation with the Ketchum Ranger District.

     “This is going to promote a beautiful forest for skiing,” Parkhill said. “We’re providing more skiable acres and a more contemporary product.”

     Parkhill said the wood will be chewed up by a giant “masticator” machine, and the chips will be laid down on the ground as mulch.

     Joe Miczulski, recreation forester for the Ranger District, said the project was approved last summer. He said thinning will reduce competition among the remaining trees for nutrients, sunlight and moisture.

     “They should be more resistant to insects and disease and potentially fire,” he said.

     Parkhill said mountain crews will continue with an ongoing effort to clear shrubs and small trees from some of the runs.

     He said that following the Flying Squirrel fire in February, the company decided there’s no point in rebuilding the lift, which has rarely been in use since the Challenger high-speed quad was built. He said work is under way to prepare its 18 towers for removal by helicopter over two days in mid to late June.

     “We’ll let the community know when it’s going to take place,” he said.

     Parkhill said the chairs will be donated to local nonprofit organizations to be raffled off.

     “That way it keeps it in the valley for best use,” he said.

     Resort Summer Trails Coordinator Julian Tyo said the Saddle Up biking trail, built last summer on the upper half of Baldy as the mountain’s first biking-specific “flow trail,” will be open July 1. The four-mile trail starts near the Lookout restaurant and winds down through the Grandma’s House area and Central Park, across Limelight to Wolverton Bowl and ends at the base of the Christmas chairlift. The 4- to 6-foot-wide trail has rolls and banked curves.

     Tyo said people will be able to do laps on the trail using the Christmas lift.

     “Now we’re going to have people within the mountain and using the mountain [in summer],” he said. “It’s going to create a really fun environment up there. It will really round out the mountain biking offerings that we have here in the Wood River Valley.”

     Tyo said the trail is just the beginning of a more extensive mountain-biking trail system on Baldy. The effort will continue in August with the reworking of a trail on the back side of the bowls to connect with two new trails across the bowls—one back up to the base of the Lookout lift and another down to connect with the Saddle Up trail.

     Tyo said another project to build a downhill biking trail from near the Roundhouse restaurant to the base of River Run is going through environmental review with the BLM, which manages the public land on the lower half of Baldy. He said he hopes for a decision on that by this winter so construction can be done in summer 2015.

     Tyo said that at 11 miles, the combined trail from summit to base will be the longest flow trail in the United States.

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