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For the week of Nov. 17, 1999 through Nov. 23, 1999

Thanksgiving Day ski opening is questionable

Snow forecast for today

Express Staff Writer

n17bald3.jpg (11912 bytes)Wes Roberts, a Sun Valley snowmaking expert, keeps the snow guns roaring on Bald Mountain above Warm Springs. (Express photo by Willy Cook)

Only a week away from the planned opening of Sun Valley Co.’s Bald Mountain, the resort is faced with a dilemma — unseasonably warm temperatures and an extreme lack of natural snow.

On a typical, cold autumn day, Sun Valley’s snowmaking system will pump 3 million gallons of water onto the slopes in the form of icy snow, Wes Roberts, Sun Valley Co. night shift snowmaking supervisor, said during a tour of the mountain yesterday morning. On Monday, however, high temperatures allowed less than 1 million gallons to be pumped through Baldy’s 522 computer-controlled snowguns.

"We’ve heard people talking around town about how we should be making more snow, but they don’t understand," Roberts said.

"These temperatures we’ve had this last week or so aren’t worth very much. If the temperature drops, we’ll really be okay, but we’ll keep hammering it out and end up with something."

Records kept by Sun Valley’s snowmaking system, the largest computerized snowmaking system in the country, clearly show what’s been wrong, Roberts said.

Since Oct. 15, the temperature has been above 32 degrees for 443 of 495 hours. The measured temperature dropped to an interval between 18 and 21 degrees for only two hours during the 22-day period. And that’s as low as it’s gotten, according to Sun Valley Co.’s computers.

The snow guns were roaring Tuesday morning on Lower Warm Springs. Sun Valley’s night shift snowmaking supervisor Wes Roberts said the amount of snow there took seven to eight days to make. When temperatures are cooler (more normal), the same amount of snow can be made in one or two days. (Express photo by Willy Cook)

When asked if the area will be able to open on Thanksgiving Day as scheduled, Roberts answered, "It’s hard to say. I think we’ll have something open, but it’s hard to say how much."

He said the goal is to open Lower Warm Springs and Lower River Run for Turkey Day.

Sun Valley spokesman Jack Sibbach said there haven’t been any reservation cancellations yet, but in the next day or two, the company will start calling its anticipated guests and telling them of the current conditions.

"We’ll start telling them there’s a possibility that there won’t be snow for Thanksgiving," he said, "and then we’ll probably start to get some cancellations."

Despite the warm weather and lack of snow, many locals aren’t lamenting the loss of another ski season yet. In fact, most don’t seem to be worried at all. They’re just trying to get the last few bike rides or hikes before the snow and cold arrive.

Bob Gordon, owner of Formula Sports on Main Street in Ketchum said he’s "really enjoying" the fall weather.

"I kind of see it as a blessing either way," he said of warmth and snow.

"The winter is long, and I don’t mind seeing the summer season extended a little bit. Summer is short and sweet, and it’s nice to have a longer fall."

Gordon said his business, which sells skis, boots, bindings and skiing accessories in the winter, is doing well so far this fall.

"I haven’t seen any downward spiral. However, if we’re not up and running by the 10th of December, we’ll see a downward shift of business," he said.

He added he views a Thanksgiving Day opening as a bonus.

Gordon stressed the importance of a good start to the ski season for the entire ski industry, not just Sun Valley.

"If other states don’t have snow, people will just keep golfing all season. They’re tuned into their surroundings," he said.

And so far this season, most of the industry isn’t faring so well.

Last week, Park City Mountain Resort in Utah canceled its World Cup ski races and United States season opener, scheduled for Nov. 18 through 21.

According to Laura Murphy, Park City marketing director, temperatures have been in the 70s in the Park City area. The races were moved to Copper Mountain and Beaver Creek, Colo.

Crested Butte, Colo., is also ailing. The resort, nestled among the towering Elk Mountains, had to bump its opening date from Nov. 19 to Nov. 24.

Whistler/Blackcomb Resort in British Columbia, on the other hand, is doing better than average. It’s first snows fell on Oct. 28 and the area now has about three feet at mid mountain.

Blackcomb Mountain opened on Saturday and Whistler is scheduled for a Nov. 24 opening.

According to Larry Holt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boise, a change in the weather pattern should arrive today.

The large, unmoving high pressure system that has been sitting on most of the Rocky Mountain West is starting to move off to the south and east, he said.

Holt, in fact, called for snow above 6,000 feet today.

He said precipitation has been "very dry," but not a record.

As for the 30-day outlook—Holt said Idaho should fall into a pattern of slightly below average temperatures and slightly above average precipitation.

Maybe, just maybe, locals will be able to finally put the mountain bikes away.


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