Rotarun rang in its 71st season on New Year’s Eve, dropping the rope—and firing up the Poma—for its first evening of free skiing and riding.

Hailey’s hometown ski hill has high hopes for the season, it’s first with manmade snow.

The “initial phase” of its snowmaking operation will target the lower portion of the mountain, according to the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, whose executive director, Scott McGrew, also serves as Rotarun’s general manager.

Extra snow gives added security to the foundation’s south valley-oriented youth programs—Rota-rippers and Alpine LASAR—which McGrew expects to teach 120 kids this winter. And, it means more for the no-charge public skiing, which will hit the hill under the lights from 5:30-8 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays this winter.

“The vision has been to create a system that is both efficient and aligned with the local spirit of the area,” McGrew said in a statement. “We are ecstatic that this incredible community asset will continue to provide a place for all of us to enjoy the winter in an authentic and inspired way for generations to come.”

The community turned out to make it happen, too. Volunteers turned out with heavy equipment to repair and remediate a mudslide triggered by spring runoff that took a chunk out of the upper slope. And, a committee of local companies donated time and supplies to remodel the base lodge with a new kitchen and ski patrol headquarters.

For more information on the area and the program it hosts, go to rotarun.org. Or, drive out Croy Canyon, west of Hailey, to see the improvements for yourself.

“I’ve been searching the world for another free ski area, and I haven’t found one yet,” McGrew said. “We might just be the only one—and we’re beyond thrilled about it.”

Email the writer: mdee@mtexpress.com

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