Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Sun Valley Opens with Gob-bles of Runs
Those on the first chair got to wear Sun Valley’s First Tracks jerseys. PHOTO: Cooper Morton/Sun Valley Resort
Friday, November 27, 2020



Max Jenson doesn’t normally get first tracks at Sun Valley Resort on opening day as he’s always out of town playing hockey. But this year, with hockey tournaments put on pause because of the pandemic, he  camped out overnight in the River Run parking lot with friends to ensure he would be first in the lift line.

“It was cold but we ate cookies and nuts,” he said of his night out watching snow groomers work back and forth across Bald Mountain as the temperature dipped to 12 degrees. “But I’m so excited to get the season started.”

Sun Valley resident Pat Bruder enjoyed a moment in the sun following her first few runs of the season.

And start it did to the muffled cheers of skiers and boarders wearing a variety of face coverings from N-95 masks to buffs in accordance with Sun Valley Resort’s policy.

“I can’t wait for my skis to touch the snow!” said one young skier as the chair in which he was riding neared the point of debarkation. “Look at how awesome looking the snow is up here!”

Sun Valley--America's No. 1 ski resort according to SKI Magazine--was blessed with two feet of snow during the past two weeks topped off by three additional inches on Thanksgiving Eve. And the resort took advantage of that, opening a bevvy of runs, including Upper Limelight, Upper Warm Springs, Mid and Lower Holiday, Upper River Run, Upper Can-Can, Flying Squirrel, Graduate, Upper Janss Pass and upper French Dip.

It could not have been a more perfect start following the resort’s longest off-season ever. And the opening day weather could not have been more perfect, what with temperatures in the upper 20s, not a hint of a breeze and a royal blue sky.

Skiers and snowboarders reveled in skiing the powder on Holiday.

One man marveled as he watched skiers and boarders make swooping turns in untracked powder on Mid-Holiday.

“You know it’s going to be a good year when you can ski powder the first day,” he said.

The ability to open 27 runs allowed Sun Valley skiers plenty of elbow room during a pandemic that closed the resort prematurely in mid-March 2020. The resort also did away with the sale of daily lift tickets opening weekend to give those with Sun Valley season passes and Epic passes even more  physical distancing.

River Run Lodge had been emptied of its lockers and couches and half its tables but remained open for the all-important restrooms and restaurant. A River Run Express trailer outside offered skiers a chance to grab breakfast burritos, chicken tenders, grilled cheese sandwiches with apple wood smoked bacon, a River Run margarita, kombucha and Uinta Yard Sale Winter Ale.

The River Run Lodge looks drastically different with social distancing in place.

Circles boasting pictures of ski boots reminded those waiting in line for the Roundhouse Gondola to space out. And courtesy patrol ensured chairlift seating was spaced as they directed singles not to hop on with two or three skiers.

“My daughter saw the opening line as we crossed the bridge and said we were going to be forever. But, by the time we got there, the line was gone,” said James Fox as he wiped down the bar on the chair with hand sanitizer. “That’s the power of this mountain.”

Jake Woidstad surveyed Bald Mountain with a sense of wonder as he waited for the 85th season to get underway. He and his family moved to Sun Valley from Wisconsin during the summer, he said, to fulfill his wife’s dream of living in the mountains. They spent five weeks skiing last winter in Colorado but ended up picking Sun Valley for their new home based on the accolades of Colorado skiers and the promise the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation held for their son.

“People had nothing but good to say about Sun Valley,” he said.

The River Run Express on the River Run Patio offers grab-and-go items such as fries, along with margaritas and beers.

Even as the countdown began for Sun Valley, Kim Nagel and her friends dressed up in a variety of costumes ranging from a penguin to tutus and conducted their own little multi-sport day. They skinned up Dollar Mountain and skied down, went sledding, then headed to the Nordic tracks near the SNRA, finishing up there just as families began arriving with gobs of kids and dogs.

Next stop: Baldy.

“I can’t believe they have so many runs open,” said Nagel after hearing the trail report.

Members of Higher Ground said they were delighted to be able to offer their participants chance to ski this winter after having had to curtail so many summer activities due to COVID.

They’re limiting the size of some programs and following guidelines to provide the safest environment they can, said Volunteer Coordinator Elyse Smidinger. And they’re spending $25,000 for a yurt on Dollar Mountain that will give a participants to a chance to warm up in socially distanced fashion, said Kelly Eisenbarger, marketing coordinator for Higher Ground.

“Higher Ground being able to implement our ski programs this winter is one more small step toward equality for people with disabilities—it means inclusion,” said Kayla Pedrolini, adaptive program manager. “I am looking forward to seeing the joy that skiing sparks in our participants.”


Sun Valley, which normally opens Dollar Mountain on Thanksgiving Weekend, declined to do so this year so it could make sure it had COVID protocols down pat on Bald Mountain first, said Mike Fitzpatrick, the resort’s director of guest operations. Until Dollar opens will open Dec. 12—children can play on the Kinderspielplatz at the bottom of River Run.

Sun Valley Resort will start selling daily lift tickets on Monday, Nov. 30.





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