The Sun Valley Resort shut down Bald Mountain early on Friday, as the first major storm of the season left conditions too dangerous to continue.
“Due to snow safety concerns, Sun Valley Company made the decision to close Bald Mountain today at 2 p.m.,” the resort said in a statement around 3:30 p.m. Friday.
The latest storm cycle dumped 51 inches of snow on the resort in a three-day span, more than doubling Baldy’s season snowpack to date. The southeastern storm prompted the Sawtooth Avalanche Center to issue an avalanche warning for the Wood River Valley for much of last week.
The warning expired Sunday morning, but the Center deemed avalanche risk “considerable” across its entire forecast area. The greatest risk was in southern ranges, including Soldier and the Wood River Valley, where snowfall—and temperatures—were the highest through the weekend.
“The Wood River Valley is ground zero right now,” SAC Forecaster Ethan Davis told the Express on Friday. “This is the hotspot—this is where snow totals are the highest. We thought if anywhere was going to go off, it would be north-facing slopes in the Wood River Valley.”
They were right. Skiers triggered three out-of-bounds avalanches on the Warm Springs side of Bald Mountain Friday: One on Scorpion, an oft-skied face to the east of the resort; another in The Burn, a popular zone to the west; and a third in an area known as Double Ought.
Sources saw a skier exiting The Burn slide in Board Ranch after he was caught and carried on Friday, Davis said. A party of two was caught on Double Ought, where one member of the party sustained an injury and lost a ski in the slide. The other managed to hike up to a patrol shack on Baldy to get a replacement ski so they could get off the mountain, Davis said.
The skier-caused avalanche on Scorpion hit three houses on Skiway Drive, Ketchum spokeswoman Lisa Enourato told the Mountain Express.
All skiers involved were “out and safe,” Davis said.
On Thursday, the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office also reported an avalanche past Board Ranch that shut down Warm Springs Road past the end of the pavement.
Conditions remained “dangerous” in the area on Tuesday, according to SAC Avalanche Specialist Ben VandenBos. With a fairly weak, warm storm in the forecast, slab avalanches are “likely” across all elevations.
“Conditions were already dangerous, and additional snowfall today will be adding stress to this weak snow,” VandenBos wrote in his Feb. 2 forecast. “The types of weak snow in our snowpack take a long time to heal, and they are giving us plenty of evidence of that.
“Persistent weak layers are challenging problems to deal with, particularly when they are irregularly distributed. They fail in ways that surprise even seasoned backcountry travelers. The pattern of these weak layers is complex, but the bottom line is simple: If you choose to enter avalanche terrain today, there is certain to be weak snow underneath your feet and you are likely to trigger an avalanche on that snow.”