Citing safety, Sun Valley is tightening down on uphill hiking for the 2019-20 ski season, the resort announced Monday.
Skiers will now have to stick to approved routes to skin up and ski down Bald Mountain, at risk of removal or “other penalties,” according to a statement from Sun Valley spokeswoman Kelli Lusk. That’s one of several changes for the area, which says it’s trying to weigh the increasingly popular practice against its nighttime and early-morning on-hill operations.
“We want to make sure everyone enjoys themselves on Baldy, and we want to make sure everyone is safe,” Lusk told the Idaho Mountain Express. “The main thing is safety—that’s why this policy is in place.”
Baldy sits on public land, split between the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM. The company holds a special-use permit that allows it to run the resort—and set policy around it. Sun Valley can restrict access in the interest of “health and safety,” and based on its capital infrastructure on the mountain, according to Zach Poff, recreation manager for the Forest Service’s Ketchum Ranger District. The latter includes snowmaking, lifts and grooming or trail-making work, Poff said.
“Every ski area deals with this, and most that I’ve been involved in don’t allow [hiking] during the season,” he said. “It’s a big question—how do you safely manage access?”
The issue has grown with the popularity of ski touring over the past decade.
“The main thing is health and safety,” Poff said. “In the past few years, we’ve seen some extremely close calls—people hitting winch lines, almost running into snow cats. It’s stressful for the people up there getting the mountain ready every day, and it can be dangerous.”
The other part is the company’s on-hill investment. Even when there’s no other snow in the valley, people can hike Baldy, Poff said. That’s thanks to the company’s lease.
The policy announced Monday is specific to Bald Mountain, Lusk said. It’s different on Dollar Mountain, which is privately owned by Sun Valley. As of Tuesday morning, Lusk didn’t have details on how the policy would change touring on Baldy’s smaller sibling. And, she didn’t elaborate on the possible penalties the company would levy against those breaking the new rules. The Forest Service won’t be involved, Poff said—it’s up to the resort to enforce its own policy.
On Baldy, skiers will have three ways up. Starting from River Run, they can take the straight shot up Lower and Mid River, or diverge and follow Olympic Lane; the two paths meet at Roundhouse Lane before merging with Upper College to reach Lookout. On the other side, climbers can follow Lower Warm Springs to the Maiden Lane cat track, then take Flying Squirrel and Upper College to the top.
That means no traffic on the the popular route linking River Run to Lower College via Sunset Strip. There, the cat track wraps a blind turn across the hillside that the company wants clear. And, winch cats sometime anchor cables across Lower College to groom the steeper slopes down into the Frenchman’s area.
“Safety is our No. 1 priority, so we want to make sure everyone is aware of the uphill and downhill guidelines on the mountains,” Peter Stearns, Sun Valley Resort’s director of mountain operations, said in a statement. “Our goal is to find a reasonable balance among users who share a common interest in recreating within Sun Valley Co.’s special-use permit area in a safe and sustainable manner.”