Sunday, April 18, 2021
Sun Valley Resort Celebrates a Safe and Busy Ski Season
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Sun Valley ticket checkers like Avery and other workers have fastidiously masked up this season.
   
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Just over six months ago, some avid Sun Valley skiers were worrying about whether Sun Valley Resort would offer downhill skiing during a coronavirus pandemic that was lingering longer than they had imagined.

If Bald Mountain was able to reopen, some fretted, would it require skiers to make reservations?

Sun Valley Resort not only appears to have made it through the season with little problem but it has boasted good skier counts despite daily lift ticket sales being capped and below-average snowfall.

 
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Singles were allowed to ride two to a chair or by themselves this year.
 

“We’ve seen very steady and consistent visitation on both Baldy and Dollar Mountain,” said Bridget Higgins, director of marketing and public relations for the resort. “Midweek lunch laps have increased in popularity with more people living in the valley and working from home. The Sun Valley Nordic Center, too, has seen an increase in popularity with people trying out a new sport or new ways to explore the beautiful terrain we have across the resort and valley.”

Across the nation, ski resorts limited the number of season passes and daily lift tickets they sold. Some, like Aspen and Vail, required pass holders to make reservations to ski. With health officials acknowledging that skiing posed relatively little risk, many sold record numbers of passes because skiing was one of the few things people could do during the pandemic.

Sun Valley officials spent hours, days, even weeks, figuring out how they could incorporate guidelines from the National Ski Areas Association, Centers for Disease Control, the State of Idaho and South Central Public Health District.

All employees were required to take a virtual COVID-19 safety training where they learned about the virus, its symptoms, and the proper steps to take if exposed. The resort assured employees that they would offer them additional resources if they were feeling ill and needed to stay home. 

 
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Despite the longer lines, the slopes typically had plenty of elbow room.
 

Resort workers removed lockers from the River Run and Warm Springs lodges and told skiers and boarders to act as if “Your car is your lodge,” putting on boots in the parking lot to limit the time they spent inside lodges.

The Sun Valley Ski Patrol divided up into small groups working out of a couple yurts in addition to the regular ski patrol shacks so that if someone tested positive, which occasionally they did, the entire patrol would not have to go into quarantine.

Shuttle bus drivers zipped plastic curtains between themselves and passengers and taped every other seat off-limits. Sun Valley Snowsports instructors moved their desk outside on the patio where grab-and-go food trucks offered people the opportunity to snack while congregated around patio tables under heat lamps.

Tailgate parties in the parking lots replaced apres ski concerts on the patio and in the lodge.

 
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The Seattle Ridge Lodge patio proved a scenic site to enjoy morning coffee and cocoa, what with people limiting time inside.
 

And everywhere there were signs reminding people to stay six feet apart and wear face masks.

Bogus Basin and Schweitzer Basin ski areas had trouble at the beginning getting skiers and boarders to comply with masks. In fact, Schweitzer shut down night skiing over one holiday weekend and suspended some ski passes after some skiers were unwilling to toe the line.

But those skiing Sun Valley seemed ready and willing to oblige, and guest services workers in yellow jackets were quick to remind them if they dropped masks in line.

“It’s a small price to ask to keep on skiing,” noted longtime Sun Valley skier Kathleen Eder.

 
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Tim Silva took great delight in ringing in the new Broadway Lift at the beginning of the season.
 

There were a few hiccups—notably, the long lines that stretched across the footbridge leading to the base of River Run whenever Mother Nature dropped a couple feet of new snow on the resort. But skiers kept complaints to a minimum, hoping that the lines might revert back to “Sun Valley short” next season if they are again allowed to pack four to a chair.

“During this unprecedented year, we aimed to make skiing an accessible, fun experience while ensuring safety at the same time,” said Sun Valley Resort General Manager Tim Silva. “By monitoring season pass scans and ticket usage each day, we were able to safely open the mountain to as many guests as possible. We also implemented a ‘Know Before You Go’ campaign that reinforced our guidelines to all skiers and riders. Skiers and boarder are having just as much fun on our slopes as previous seasons, despite these new protocols.”

A year ago, many valley residents were holding out hope that Sun Valley Resort might not have to close down as resorts in Colorado were having to do. After all, they theorized, Sun Valley was off the beaten path.

But they soon found that the same world-class skiing that attracted skiers from both coasts and around the world had, in fact, brought the virus to Sun Valley.

The discovery of the first official COVID case in the valley on March 14 prompted resort workers to remove half of the chairs and tables from the lodges and close the Roundhouse gondola to mitigate the chances of infection.

But the next day the rumors began rippling through the lift lines that skiers had better make every run count as Sun Valley would be closing for the season the next day on March 16.

“It was an extremely difficult decision to close Sun Valley Lodging properties, but we ultimately felt it was the right decision to ensure the health and safety of our employees and community,” said Silva.

Realizing the impact that the closure of the ski resort and the curtailment of conventions and other events would have on the economic lifeblood of the Wood River Valley, Sun Valley Resort tried to get creative with its offerings.

Village Station began offering family-style takeout meals, and the Resort tried new things such as to-go holiday menus for Easter, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. It tabled some events, such as the Christmas Eve Ice Show, but offered the torchlight parade and fireworks for those who wanted to watch from their cars or the White Clouds trails.

Some Sun Valley residents had feared visitors might avoid Sun Valley after it temporarily became one of the world’s hot spots for the virus.

But the pandemic may have brought more people than usual. Twenty-somethings from New York and San Francisco who have been staying with parents and grandparents while working from home were among the new faces to the mountain this year, happily availing themselves of the opportunity to spend a winter skiing Sun Valley.

One woman spent the winter in Sun Valley skiing with Mountain Masters while her husband was back home in Austin, Texas, dealing with the Lone Star State’s deep freeze.

Others were new homeowners who decided the pandemic offered the perfect excuse to carry out their dream of living in Sun Valley or who came to Sun Valley seeking in-person schooling for their children.

Utah residents came, particularly in early winter when Utah had scant snow. Epic passholders came from as far away as Massachusetts and Maine wanting to check out SKI Magazine’s No. 1 ski resort.

“Although this ski season looks a little different at Sun Valley, locals and guests alike continue to enjoy everything that the Resort has to offer in a new, safe way,” said Silva.

Silva has nothing but praise for the Sun Valley Resort team, partners and community members for helping to make “this unprecedented season a truly remarkable one.”

“Despite the challenges of the last twelve months, the dedicated efforts of the mountain team resulted in the opening of Broadway Chair and the opening of the new Sunrise Terrain. It has been great to see so many people enjoying the extension of Lower Broadway and having new skiers and riders experience the new chair’s smooth ride up Coyote Bowl and Gun Ridge, while enjoying incredible views,” he said.

“We were blessed with 51” of snow in early February, allowing us to open Sunrise, the much anticipated 380 acres of new, expert terrain. And, although things looked a bit different, it was a pleasure to see so many familiar (masked) faces enjoying Baldy and Dollar, as well as many new faces experiencing Sun Valley for the first time.”


 

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