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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 


For the week of January 7 - 13, 2004

News

New Year comes
in like lion: blizzard
wallops valley


By GREGORY FOLEY
Express Staff Writer

A powerful winter storm that slammed into central Idaho on Dec. 31 and peaked on New Yearís Day delivered fierce winds and more than two feet of snow to parts of Blaine County, wreaking havoc on roadways and in neighborhoods from Ketchum to Carey.

Dropping up to two inches of snow per hour in some areas on Jan. 1, the blizzard triggered several dangerous avalanches, including a killer avalanche that claimed a Seattle couple near Fairfield. And at the height of the storm Thursday, a Sun Valley ski instructor was killed in an accident on Bald Mountain. (See related stories, Page A3.)

The storm also brought motor-vehicle traffic flows to a mere crawl and closed Haileyís Friedman Memorial Airportóprompting changes in travel plans for many locals and visitors alike.

Jack Sibbach, director of sales and marketing for Sun Valley Co., said the storm brought a whopping 25.5 inches of snow to Bald Mountain in a 24-hour period including New Yearís Day.

"It was just snowing so much it was hard for us to keep up with it," Sibbach said. "Thatís probably the single biggest storm Iíve seen here since 1984."

Sibbach said the snow was a "blessing" for Sun Valley Resortís ski mountains but also brought problems. "We had some guests who couldnít get out and we had to find them rooms."

In Sun Valley Village, Sibbach noted, snow piled up in roadways and parking areas and even accumulated on the labyrinth of heated walkways in the village core.

 

Avalanche warnings issued

In Ketchum, where the storm brought approximately 23 inches of snow, small avalanches impacted three separate residences, one of them directly. (See related story on Page A23.)

On Monday, Jan. 5, the Ketchum Fire Department issued an avalanche alert for neighborhoods on the north side of Warm Springs Road from Wandererís Way to Skiway Drive.

Ketchum officials reported that city streets in some areas became impassable during the storm, causing some motorists to abandon their vehicles in areas where snow had drifted.

Some businesses, including Desperadoís restaurant, closed early because employees could not get to work or desired to get home early.

"I canít remember the last time we had this much snow in one dump," said Brian Christiansen, Ketchum street superintendent.

Christiansen said snow removal vehicles were restricted in removing snow from central Ketchum on Jan. 1 because plows would have buried parked cars in stalls throughout the commercial core.

After the storm, Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon said he believes that most motorists should not have ventured out during the peak hours of snowfall. "Thursday was a very unusual storm," he said.

Indeed, the combination of heavy snow and strong winds was unusual.

 

79 mph wind gusts

Sawtooth National Forest officials on Jan. 1 recorded wind gusts of up to 79 miles per hour in the Ketchum area.

The deep, drifting snow created a very unstable snowpack on slopes north of Ketchum. One snow slide in the Titus Ridge area of Galena Pass was reported to have a fracture line eight feet deep.

"Iíd say for sure it was a 10-year storm, possibly greater than that," said Janet Kellam, director of the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center. "We did see some things slide that donít often slide."

One snow slide that occurred around 4:30 p.m. Jan. 1 in the Lake Creek area north of Ketchum prompted the temporary closure of the single northbound lane of Highway 75.

In Hailey, Friedman Memorial Airport was closed from 6 a.m. Jan. 1 until 4 p.m. Jan. 2, when around-the-clock work by maintenance crews culminated in a one-hour window for several flights to depart.

However, the airport was closed again at 5 p.m. Jan. 2 until 8 a.m. Jan. 3, said Rick Baird, airport manager, noting that it took a "Herculean" effort to reopen the facility so quickly.

Baird said the weather prohibited flying for lengthy periods of time, forcing most travelers to change their travel plans or take ground transportation to another airport.

Hailey city officials closed War Eagle Drive the morning of Jan. 2, after several small slides on Della Mountain raised concern that an avalanche might strike the neighborhoods in its shadow.

Throughout Hailey, residents on New Yearís Day ventured outside repeatedly to clear the fast-accumulating snow from their rooftops and driveways.

In Bellevue, Atkinsonsí Valley Market closed early on Jan. 1 because of the inclement weather, particularly the high winds, said Chip Atkinson, president of Atkinsonsí Markets.

 

Numerous roads closed

The grave effects of the storm were not unique to Blaine County. Heavy, drifting snow and high winds caused long closures of U.S. 93, from Carey to Arco, as well as U.S. 20, from Arco to Idaho Falls.

In southern Idaho, the heavy snows were blamed Monday, Jan. 5, for the deaths of 58 deer struck by a train navigating a set of railroad tracks between Dietrich and Owinza.

Despite the array of negative impacts, the storm did gain praise from skiers and those responsible for marketing ski vacations in Ketchum and Sun Valley.

Sibbach of Sun Valley Co. said the storm and cold weather that followed kept skier numbers down during the first five days of 2004, but ultimately helped boost the snow depth on Bald Mountain to 86 inches at the summit.

"The most important thing a storm like that can do is get phones ringing," Sibbach said.

 

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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.