SUN VALLEY — If Beethoven wore Bogner, no doubt he would have penned an “Ode to Spring Skiing” in the same glorious vein as his “Ode to Joy.”
It’s easy to get rhapsodic about spring skiing. It’s a time when you can strip down to a turtleneck and a vest as the sun bakes the chairlifts. It’s a time when folks dress up in crazy costumes for crazy daze events just because they can.
The bumps are soft enough that even the mogully challenged can wade their way through them and groomers often mow down the bumps on black diamond runs like Holiday and Upper Picabo Street. Après ski means kicking back on the patio at Warm Springs Lodge and tapping your feet to live music.
And lift tickets cost about half of what they are during the regular season.
Sun Valley Resort closed Dollar Mountain and Sun Valley Nordic Center last week even though both sported enough snow to carry them through at least two more weeks.
But Bald Mountain remains open through Easter Sunday, April 21.
And the Blaine County Recreation District hopes to continue to groom Nordic trails north of Ketchum through May 5.
“I love springtime in the mountains,” said Kelli Lusk, a spokesperson for Sun Valley Resort. “I love the changing of the seasons with the longer days and warmer weather.
“I remember a few years ago sitting outside with my mom and basking in the sun. Nothing beats sitting outside Warm Springs Lodge when the sun is shining brightly and you’ve just spent an entire day outside on the mountain.”
This year, Sun Valley Resort’s skier count was up more than 11% over last year, with more than 400,000 skier-days as of March 31. The month of February also set a record for highest snowfall at 136 inches.
That’s the most in a single month since the resort began keeping snowfall records in the 1967-68 season, said Lusk.
And the BCRD saw a big uptick in season pass sales this year as early season snowfall made it possible to groom the new Quigley Nordic trials in Hailey in early December. Last year, the bike path hardly had enough snow all winter to be groomed, spokesperson Morgan Buckert said.
Sun Valley Resort’s popular Baldy Bash will take place on Saturday at Warm Springs Lodge. A street party featuring live music by Andy Frasco and Casey Kristofferson will begin at 2 p.m. with a barbecue on the patio.
Access to the ski hill and the trails
The mountain can be accessed by both the River Run and Warm Springs lifts Friday through Sunday. On Monday, April 15, skiers and boarders will have to access it through the Challenger lift on the Warm Springs side.
But the Lookout Express and Christmas lifts will continue to run, providing skiing on the River Run side.
Meanwhile, the Blaine County Recreation District has plowed away two feet of ice and snow on the bike path, which extends from Ketchum to Bellevue. The Lake Creek Nordic trails just north of Ketchum are now closed.
The district will continue to groom other trails as long as it can, said Buckert, although it might be a little more intermittent, with not every trail being groomed every day.
“We groomed Quigley Nordic in Hailey earlier this week and we will continue to groom it as long as we can,” she said. “I love spring Nordic skiing — T-shirt and sweat!”
Galena Lodge closed April 7 on schedule but the BCRD is grooming the trails around the lodge through the end of the season. Springtime brings plenty of opportunities to ski on top of the snow in meadows like those near Cathedral Pines.
Skiing at some resorts can resemble skidding in a giant Slurpee as the sun hits the entire mountain first thing in the morning. But not Sun Valley — its ski runs are situated so that you can follow the sun as the day progresses, leaving the slushy stuff behind for firmer conditions.
“I don’t know of too many places in the country that get the cold nights we do and then the bright sun to soften the firm snow into corn snow,” said Jack Sibbach, who has skied Sun Valley for decades.
You have to play spring skiing by ear.
If nighttime temperatures don’t dive below freezing, the snow is forgiving from top to bottom as soon as the lifts crank up at 9 in the morning. That was the case on Monday with the top of the hill firm and the bottom a little softer.
If temperatures dip below freezing at night, start with the southeast facing runs like Christmas and Ridge.
As temperatures rise and snow becomes mushy on runs on the River Run side of the mountain, turn your attention to the Warm Springs side. They can feel like you’re carving through butter by late morning into the afternoon.
And you can show off your stuff for those watching from the patio and through the large picture windows of the newly rebuilt lodge as you come into focus at the bottom.
Of course, spring skiing comes with caveats:
Slow down in mushy snow—it can throw you worse than a bull at the rodeo.
And save something in your legs for that last run of the day.
Oh, and keep pouring on the sunscreen to keep your Vitamin D fix in check!