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Far And Wise Takes Students to the Mountaintop to Explore Careers
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Nappy Neaman, who started out grooming with the classic Tucker Sno-Cat, took members of Far+Wise in a computerized Prinoth Beast up the mountain to show how grooming works.
   
Friday, April 12, 2024
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Light snow fell as several high school youth followed Sun Valley’s Snowmaking Manager Corey Allen into the concrete snowmaking facility at the base of River Run.

Allen had been tasked, along with other Sun Valley Resort managers, to acquaint the young people with various careers available at Sun Valley Resort in Far+Wise’s first ever Mountain Base Camp.

Instead of starting off talking about Sun Valley’s arsenal of 617 snow guns, which makes it one of the largest of North America’s 400 automated systems, or about how the intelligent system reviews temperatures and air humidity every 10 seconds while making snow, he jumped right to the moment that had made him realize he’d chosen the right position for him 23 years earlier.

 
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Charles Stuberg tells the kids that the Prinoth Beast can contain two miles of hydraulic hose.
 

It was his first night on the job, he told the youngsters, when he headed out from Roundhouse Restaurant to do routine check-up on the snowmaking system in November before the season began.

“We were working the graveyard shift in 2001 and about 7 o’clock the whole sky lit up with the Northern Lights,” he said. “Being from Australia, I’d never experienced anything like that. We just drove to the top of Flying Squirrel and lay in the grass for a few hours watching them. It completely blew me away, and I’ve been here ever since.”

Over the years, Allen added, it’s the pride in laying down a base of snow that skiers and boarders can revel in, even in years like this when natural snow is slow to come, that has kept him here.

Allen noted that his department got 98 applications this past year for three positions and that one former worker, now a plastic surgeon, still say it’s the best job he’s ever had.

 
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One of the students in Mountain Base Camp grooms the entry onto a pipe with a snow rake.
 

“We get to see shooting stars, sunsets, sunrises—things many people never see. The day the chairlifts stop running, we start prepping for next winter’s snowmaking system, priming pumps and motors,” he said, adding that the ideal temperature for making snow is between 14 and 27 degrees. “We work all summer—that’s when we do our maintenance. We start making snow the first of November and finish up about Feb. 1.”

“If we close on the date we’ve set and the next day you can’t ski that run, Corey’s done his job,” chimed in Mountain Operations Manager James Grant.

This winter’s Mountain Boot Camp came on the heels of Far+Wise’s inaugural summer camps, which gave youngsters a chance to check out careers in aviation, welding and other trades. The dozen-plus youth enrolled in the Far+Wise Mountain Boot Camp spent several afternoons after school on Bald and Dollar mountains following ski instructors, ski patrollers, ticket checkers and others.

“It’s cool to see the people behind the scenes in the different jobs,” said Katie Gardiner.

 
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“One of my assistants says that electricians are God’s gift to mankind,” said James Cameron as he took students on a tour of a lift room. “When something’s not working, everyone looks to us.”
 

At Dollar Mountain the students met Michael Franco, who grew up in the Wood River Valley and joined Sun Valley’s Terrain Park crew to supplement his summer excavation work.

“Terrain parks for me are really special,” he told the youngsters before showing them how to groom a terrain park feature with special snow rakes. “I grew up building my own jumps on Baldy before they had terrain parks, and it’s something I’m passionate about.”

At one time Sun Valley had a half-pipe, then a 22-foot superpipe—one of 14 superpipes in North America, Franco said. Now, only a few ski resorts, including Copper Mountain and Breckenridge, have them because the cost of money and time to build and maintain them is astronomical, there are few experienced pipe builders and because they are so few skiers and boarders capable of utilizing them.

“We’re talking about maybe building a smaller pipe that would be more fun for people,” he said. “A 13-foot pipe is way more user-friendly than a 22-foot one.”

 
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Students learned about the manual grooming involved in terrain parks and they learned that Sun Valley boasts nearly 40 miles of snowmaking pipes and a hundred-plus weather stations.
 

Franco told the kids that Sun Valley works with Effective Edge, an off-shoot of Park Technologies, to figure out appropriate signage.

“We never say our parks are safe. They’re reasonably safe. There’s always inherent risk when doing a sport.”

Then he showed them now his co-workers from Australia and France maintain Sun Valley’s park, which is designed so people can work their way up from 20-foot jumps to 30- and 40-foot jumps.

“We like to ride every hour to check for burrs and others things that need correcting. I’m looking now for someone who can weld so we can build more terrain park features this summer,” he said.

“I’m starting to think this is the best job ever,” said James Tautkus, who with Harry Griffith of Sun Valley Economic Development has had a hand in helping Far+ Wise design the vocational camps.

Chandler Stuberg, who manages mountain vehicles, let the youngsters climb in and out of the groomers which, he said, cost up to $75,000. The Prinoth Bison can travel 13 to 14 miles per hour downhill, he told the youngsters, and is strong enough to pull a house down.

When one was stuck at the top of a run, workers pulled it down the mountain by spinning it around and pulling it down with one snowcat while another managed it from above.

“I like the exciting aspects of the job, said Stuberg, who attended aircraft school before doing a variety of jobs, including gold mining. “Why would you want to be stuck in an office all day when you can do something like this?!”

Stuberg pointed to a classic old Tucker Sno-Cat manufactured in Medford, Ore., in the 1960s. The new machines, by contrast, are computerized, he said.

Elliot Sand, who moved to Sun Valley from Seattle last year, said he liked the opportunity to see how things work behind the scenes.

“I really like the grooming and stuff because the snowcats are pretty cool,” he said. “It was also interesting to talk with the ski instructors—they work more than I expected—some work seven hours a day.”

His friend Jamie Kelley concurred: “It’s cool to see how the terrain park workers prepare the jumps. I didn’t know how precise they have to be with the way they build them.”

DID YOU KNOW?

Far+Wise is about to expand its Trade & Vocational Programming into a new initiative called the Center for Career Exploration. The initiative is in collaboration with College of Southern Idaho, Sun Valley Economic Development and Blaine County School District.

“We already have 100 students who have reached out for information and we haven’t even started outreach for registration!” said Laura Rose-Lewis, the executive director of Far+Wise.

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