Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Sun Valley Resort Adds Yurts, Sunrise to Ski Experience
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Sun Valley Resort is banking on its typically uncrowded lift lines to be a perfect antidote for a pandemic ski season.
   
Friday, November 13, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Ski yurts will join chairlifts on Bald Mountain this winter as Sun Valley Resort takes precautions during a coronavirus pandemic that is currently escalating.

The resort will scatter six yurts around its winter playground to enhance physical distancing opportunities for the programs that use the mountain.

Two will be designated for the Sun Valley Ski Patrol, one for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, one for Sun Valley’s Snowsports School and one for Higher Ground Sun Valley.

 
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Look for yurts like this one to dot the mountain this winter.
 

The yurts are made in Montana by Shelter Designs Yurts out of natural lodgepole pine, western larch and cedar. And they will offer a place out of inclement weather during a year in which lodge access is being restricted.

Generally speaking, ski areas offer the perfect remedy for a physically distanced winter, Mike Fitzpatrick, Sun Valley’s guest services manager, told those attending a virtual Economic Summit organized this week by Sun Valley Economic Development and Visit Sun Valley.

Fitzpatrick noted that ski areas have hundreds of acres of wide-open spaces, that ski lifts have constantly changing air flow as they move people uphill and that skiing and snowboarding goggles and face coverings already keep faces covered.

But, he noted, that extra precautions will be taken during Sun Valley’s 85th season to add a measure of safety at the resort, which was recently named America’s No. 1 Ski Resort by SKI Magazine readers.

Skiers and boarders will be encouraged to boot up for the day at their car, rather than in lodges. Bags and other personal items will be stored in new sanitary bag checks. And all employees will wear face coverings when dealing with guests and one another.

The resort has resisted the temptation to require ski reservations as it pursues the motto “Ski Well, Be Well.”

Lift lines will look different with skiers taking their place in one of a handful of lines that will funnel into a line boarding the chair. Face coverings will be mandatory while in a lift line or loading or unloading a chair.

Skiers and riders will be allowed to board a chair or gondola with those they came with. Otherwise, chairs and gondola cabs will be restricted to two people at a time.

Face coverings will be mandated during SnowSports lessons and programs and in all places where six feet of distancing can’t be maintained. The exception: when eating or drinking.

Seating capacity in lodges will be reduced, and reservations will be taken for the Roundhouse Restaurant and Averill’s. Outside food carts will offer grab-and-go meals and beverages.

Employees’ health will be checked daily and quarantine protocols will be in place. Restrooms and other spaces will be continually disinfected.

And Sun Valley will offer a new app with trail maps and other information.

“It may be a little different, but I think everyone will be very pleased with how we’re handling this situation,” said Fitzpatrick.

It’s uncertain how COVID will affect skier visits nationwide. But forecasters are certain that more people will drive to ski areas in their region, rather than fly. But Sun Valley Resort expects to get a bounce out of its No. 1 ranking and its 380-acre expansion—the largest new project unveiled in America this winter.

The expansion extends Broadway Run by 4,200 feet covered, and 25 new snow guns will assure early season skiing. The new area also offers new bowl, tree and glade skiing accessible from the top of the mountain near Seattle Ridge Lodge.

The new high-speed quad extends more than a mile, offering great views as it climbs 1,600 vertical feet, said Fitzpatrick, who is also vice-chair of the Idaho Travel Council.

Fitzpatrick said Sun Valley named the new area “Sunrise,” he said, “Because on the day of the winter solstice the top of Sunrise Bowl is the first spot to catch the sun.”

WHAT’S UP, NEIGHBOR?

Brundage Mountain in McCall will cater to an increased population in McCall driven to the town by the pandemic, the ski area’s general manager Ken Rider said. And, already, locals have learned what a Herculean task it’s going to be educating the newcomers about how to navigate winter in a mountain town.

“We have snow on the ground right now and cars are off the road because people have their bald summer tires on. We need to start having the conversation about who’s going to shovel your driveway. My new neighbor thought Uber would take her grocery shopping. We don’t have Uber here,” he said.

Brundage, which SKI Magazine called one of the last great places to ski and a reason to wax nostalgic in 2016, was just recently purchased by a local Idaho group led by Bob Looper, president of the Brundage board of directors. A member of the DeBoer family that owned it is part of the group.

Summer at Brundage Mountain beat all expectations, with independent travel making up for the loss of concerts and weddings.

This winter Brundage is planning for regional visitation. People within a 500-mile mile radius are  expected to drive to the resort, compared with a 280-mile radius in past years. Between 5,000 and 10,000 second homeowners have decided to stay for winter, which will have a great impact on the town, which boasted a population of 3,500 people in 2015.

The ski area also expects more mid-week visitation from those in Boise and other Treasure Valley towns.

Plan A is not to limit capacity, but Brundage could limit daily ticket sales should COVID continue to be a problem.

“We’ve come to the realization that on-mountain capacity is not a challenge. The problem is lodges and bathrooms,” Rider said.

The area has expanded parking by 150 spaces. Guests will not be allowed to hang out inside lodges.

Instead, the area is providing heated mobile trailer bathrooms with running water. It’s quadrupled employee locker room space, bringing in trailers for employee lockers. And it’s providing 150 new outdoor lockers, and outdoor spaces with new picnic tables and firepits for guests.

Brundage had talked about bringing food trucks to the mountain but instead decided to merge food operations into outdoor Grab-n-Go options that people can eat around the firepits or take to their cars. It also will provide evening to-go options, such as lasagna meals, for people to take with them to their hotel rooms.

“This summer we changed our food and beverage operations substantially, and our revenues increased,” Rider said.

Brundage will limit snowcat operations and use of its Activity Barn, which offers activities like tubing, will be offered in two-hour blocks by reservation. Brundage is also creating a travel ambassador program and a backwoods academy to give people information about how to travel in the backcountry.

“Communication is key,” Rider said. “We started talking about what winter will look like to our guests in early September and we will continue to do that as we get close

 

 

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