As snow looms in the near-term weather forecast, Sun Valley and other Idaho ski areas are steadily preparing for the 2020-21 winter season.
Sun Valley is scheduled to kick off its 85th winter ski and snowboard season on Bald Mountain on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26. Dollar Mountain—the resort’s smaller, sister ski area—is currently scheduled to open on Saturday, Dec. 12, conditions permitting.
The biggest change skiers and riders will see on Bald Mountain this season is the opening of a vast, new section of terrain in the Cold Springs area of the mountain. The Cold Springs expansion adds 380 acres of new terrain southeast of the popular Seattle Ridge section of Baldy. The resort has installed a new high-speed, detachable quad chairlift to replace the resort’s oldest chairlift, the two-person Cold Springs lift. The lift ascends 1,582 feet from a point at the bottom of an extension of the Lower Broadway run up to the Roundhouse restaurant, where skiers and riders can access the Christmas chairlift and runs on the River Run side of the mountain. The resort has installed 25 new snowmaking guns on the extended section of Lower Broadway.
The expansion will offer access to the Turkey Bowl area, tree skiing and chute skiing, the resort’s website states.
Jess Smith, a spokeswoman for Sun Valley Resort, said the resort has not yet set an opening date for the expanded ski terrain and new lift, “as it is dependent on Mother Nature blessing us with some snow.”
Smith said the resort is still fine-tuning its plans to enhance health and safety at the Sun Valley ski areas amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“The health and safety of our employees, community and guests remains our top priority,” she said in an email to the Idaho Mountain Express. “With that in mind, some things will look the same as years past and others will be different.”
One change, Smith noted, will be outdoor food stations at each base of the mountain serving breakfast, lunch and “grab-and-go” offerings for people who do not want to enter the day lodges.
In developing a plan for safety and social-distancing on the mountains, in lift lines, on lifts, in lessons and in day lodges, Sun Valley is following guidance of the National Ski Areas Association—including its “Ski Well, Be Well” program—as well as from local and state health officials, Smith said. Sun Valley will release details on its health and safety protocols at a future date, she said.
“We would like to reiterate that skiers and riders should come to the mountain prepared to go straight to the lifts to ski and head up the mountain,” Smith said.
For skiers and riders considering purchasing one of the resort’s season passes, Sun Valley has implemented a no-cost “pass protection program” that provides a full or prorated refund if a pass holder’s season is cut short due to a mandated mountain closure, a stay-at-home order, personal injury, military service or pregnancy, Smith noted.
Other Idaho ski areas gearing up
The Idaho Ski Areas Association, also known as Ski Idaho, laid out at its annual meeting last month plans on how its members can address safety concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic this winter.
Brad Wilson, general manager of the Bogus Basin ski area near Boise—who was elected president of the 18-resort collective at the meeting—said he is confident that all 18 Ski Idaho resorts will adopt the National Ski Areas Association’s “Ski Well, Be Well” program to promote health and safety.
Ski areas that are part of the Ski Idaho association include Sun Valley, Soldier Mountain, Grand Targhee, Bogus Basin, Tamarack and Brundage.
“We assume the current health mitigation strategies related to COVID-19 will continue to be in place through the winter,” Wilson said in a news release. “This includes the requirement of facial coverings in public spaces—including the base area and lift lines and any time you’re allowed indoors—and maintaining physical distance in all public spaces by both guests and employees. The rule of thumb on the chairlifts and gondolas is to ride with who you came with, and many resorts are recommending that guests use their own vehicles as personal lodges.”
Wilson said the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that recreationists choose outdoor activities and places where it is easy to stay six feet apart.
“It would be tough to find a safer outdoor space than on a chairlift,” Wilson said. “Skis are about six feet long, so it’s easy to social distance in the lift line. There’s good directional airflow when you’re riding the lift and the chairs are spaced 50 feet apart. Skiers and boarders are already used to wearing gear like masks and gloves and goggles and helmets.”
Wilson said many Ski Idaho resorts are limiting or not allowing indoor seating and dining. At least one Idaho ski area, Bogus Basin, is using software that allows visitors to order food via their smartphones and establish a specific time to pick it up right outside the lodge. Several mountains have purchased large tents to expand outdoor seating and dining, and at least two—Grand Targhee and Tamarack—will begin operating food trucks, Wilson noted.
As many transactions as possible, ranging from lift ticket sales to the signing of liability waivers, are going online at Idaho ski resorts, Wilson said.
No Ski Idaho resort plans to place limits on season-pass-holder visitation or require guests to make reservations online, according to Wilson.
“At least one mountain, Schweitzer, will limit single-day lift ticket inventories based on historical data to ensure season-pass holders can maintain social distancing expectations, and another, Bogus Basin, will limit them on peak winter weekends and holidays,” Ski Idaho reported.
Some resorts other than Sun Valley will also offer prorated credit to this year’s season-pass holders based on how many, if any, days they are closed due to COVID-19. Those include Grand Targhee and Tamarack.
Utah-based Ascent Ventures purchased Soldier Mountain, near Fairfield, Ski Idaho reported. The Phillips Creek Fire this past summer completely destroyed the ski area’s “magic carpet” lift, all of the outbuildings except for the outdoor restrooms, and most of the signage on the mountain, and heat from the fire damaged one lift, the organization stated.
“Fortunately, Soldier Mountain’s lodge and snowcats were untouched and the new owners are confident the resort will reopen this winter,” Ski Idaho stated.