The Holding family insists that business will continue as usual. The devotion to Holding’s strategy has never been more apparent than this season, in fact. While other resorts have sidelined improvement projects, Sun Valley forged ahead with a huge capital project, a new $12 million gondola that will access the newly remodeled Roundhouse Restaurant on Bald Mountain.
“Hey, that’s not bald,” says Ethan as we pull into the parking lot at Baldy.
Compared to the wide-open spaces of Dollar, Baldy’s anything but bald, its lush evergreen cover interrupted only by the network of trails that swoop from the top.
Outside the Warm Springs Lodge, we meet up with a couple of locals from the ski school. Ralph Harris, a fine-art illustrator by trade, matter-of-factly tells us that his uncle was on the crew that installed the storied first chairlift, and one or another member of his family has worked at the mountain since the day it opened. Mark Mutz tells tall tales about powder days and the time he taught John McEnroe’s girlfriend to ski. Hemingway would have liked Mutz, I think.
As we head out, we agree there’s no need for a family meeting to plot strategy. Baldy’s layout is refreshingly straightforward. There’s one mountain, one main lodge and one chair to the top. Baldy is so decision-free that a trail map is almost optional. Still, the kids ski it tentatively at first, daunted by the sheer scale of the mountain. “I like to know where I’m going,” Ethan confides when he stops well within view on a trail called Broadway. He and his sister have grown up skiing in the East, and in their view, the mass of a mountain is proportional to its ability to deal out unpleasant surprises—steeps, bumps, ice or catwalks. But soon they discover a surprise of a different kind—that Bald Mountain has no surprises.
What you see here is what you get. From top to bottom, side to side, the fall line is as consistent as Derek Jeter. They soon realize they can make a couple of turns, set the mental cruise control and just keep going. And keep going we do. Ethan follows Mutz; Emma trails Harris, and they devour one run after another, each faster and freer than the last.
With the kids in good hands, my wife, Sally, and I sneak off for a while to sample the bowls off the Mayday chair. We pause at the ridgeline and look out over the Sawtooths glistening against another blue, if not windless, sky. We’ve skied other big mountains with bigger reputations—based on clips from ski movies and the sheer quantity of you-fall-you-die terrain. Huckable cornices are in short supply here, but as our edges bite the chalky snow and we arc effortlessly from one GS turn to the next, street cred doesn’t matter. While Sun Valley might not sport the snowfall of other Western resorts, the combination of man-made and natural snow and thorough but not excessive grooming make it perfect for big-turn skiing. It’s easy to see why this mountain has been home to some of America’s best racers. I ski fast; Sally skis faster, each turn reflecting our mood rather than any need to scrub or gain speed. Or wait for the kids.
When we return to the pack, we’ve all come to see this mountain for what it is. “We’re not skiing trails,” says Ethan. “We’re really skiing the mountain.” And I understand just what he means.
Most other mountains reveal themselves in pieces. A cruiser here, a chute there, a catwalk in between—a jigsaw puzzle waiting to be assembled piece by piece to form the big picture. But not Baldy. And certainly not Sun Valley. This archetypal mountain offers snow sliding at its most basic: a single mountain you can ski from top to bottom in roughly a straight line. And its classic ski town offers mountain living that’s still unadulterated. Rugged? Yes. Elegant? Yes. But most of all, this place is honest and enduring. More than a little, I think, like Hemingway’s timeless prose. ●