Sun Valley Resort announced this week that on Dec. 18 it will enact a policy of not allowing uphill foot traffic on Bald Mountain during the ski area’s operational hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
Peter Stearns, director of mountain operations, made the announcement Monday with Jack Sibbach, Sun Valley Co. spokesman, and Kurt Nelson, Ketchum district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service.
Stearns said the policy on uphill trekking was revised as a result of safety concerns for both uphill and downhill users.
“The significant change in this is restricting the travel,” Stearns said. “At 9 a.m., you must be heading back down the hill. It’s not a new policy, but it’s a change to the existing policy.”
Although the resort hasn’t compiled any statistical information on uphill foot traffic, Stearns said the change was prompted largely by a significant increase in the number of people hiking up the ski mountain.
“We have experienced a dramatic increase in the number of uphill enthusiasts on the mountain and have recognized the need to implement policies to ensure the safety of both our downhill and uphill users,” Stearns said. “It just got to the point where it didn’t make any sense to have people going in the opposite direction of what the main operation of the ski mountain is.”
Sun Valley Resort operates the ski area under a permit from the Forest Service. Nelson said Sun Valley Co. approached his office last winter to discuss changing the policy. The change was approved administratively, he said, with an eye toward safety.
Nelson said he has observed some 200 to 300 people per day trekking up Baldy in the early part of the ski season on free-heel skis or snowshoes, some of them with dogs. He said the higher numbers of people and dogs moving uphill boosts the chances of a serious injury occurring on Baldy.
“We have experienced a dramatic increase in the number of uphill enthusiasts on the mountain.”
Director mountain operations
“People have become accustomed to doing their exercise when it fits their schedule, not when it makes sense,” Nelson said. “There are lots of people in the community who’ve become accustomed to it who will need to structure their time to work around their operating hours.”
Nelson emphasized that the rationale behind the decision is not to limit public access to the mountain, but to manage it instead.
“There will be varying opinions on this, but the bottom line is the responsibility is on the company to manage this risk,” Nelson said. “It would be nice not to have addressed it, but that wouldn’t be responsible.”
Stearns said there has been a great deal of discussion about mitigating uphill traffic risk among members of the National Ski Areas Association. Stearns and Nelson said other major ski resorts in the West have had to adjust their policies as well.
Along with the risk of colliding with a downhill skier, Stearns and Nelson said snowcats and snowmobiles can also pose a hazard for uphill trekkers. Stearns said some ski areas have established designated routes for uphill traffic, but it was determined that such a route would be difficult to establish on Baldy. Nonetheless, it was decided to continue to allow uphill traffic during hours when the ski area is closed.
“We had to put down the policy that all people must go downhill at 9 a.m. so no one keeps climbing beyond then,” Stearns said. “We want to speak to whatever questions may come from the public on this. There’s been an overwhelming amount of support from people saying this is the right thing to do.”
Enforcement of the policy will be done through the Sun Valley Ski Patrol and mountain staff. People still climbing at 9 a.m. will be asked to turn around. Sibbach said educating people of the policy’s importance will be a major priority as the policy takes effect.
Nelson said people blatantly ignoring the rule could be arrested, but noted that involving law enforcement will be considered a last resort.
“This is not confrontational, this is asking for people’s understanding to create a safe ski area for everyone to enjoy,” Nelson said. “We’re not trying to create animosity. The patrol will calmly articulate this is a policy of public safety. This is not done with malicious intent at all.”
Stearns acknowledged that hiking up the mountain at night is also a dangerous endeavor, when numerous grooming machines are at work, but wanted to make sure he didn’t eliminate uphill access altogether.
“Some of these other policies don’t allow uphill access at all, but I’m an access guy,” he said. “I still want people to be able to do that.”
Details of the policy and on-mountain safety can be read at www.sunvalley.com, under the “Mountain” tab.
Eric Avissar: firstname.lastname@example.org