The most electric mornings in a ski town are those which are pronounced by the percussive thumps followed with rattling windows of snow control bombs being set off on the mountain above. It's the orchestra of a powder morning conducted by the ski patrol; an early morning ritual which to witness in person is a bit like a coveted backstage pass to one of the most amazing sunrises on earth. In the pitch dark we load into the gondola and make our way to witness first hand what goes into making Baldy safe for the public on a powder day.
It begins in the wee hours atop Bald Mountain in the patrol shack with a briefing and planning session. Coffee steams in white cups dotting tables as the owners of some of the most vital jobs on the mountain huddle creating strategy as to how to address an unpredictable and chaotic friend: 24" of fresh powder. Years of experience, evolving techniques, modern technology and local instinct dictate the morning's approach. The sunrise fights for my attention.
Winds over night have transported snow into lee slopes, the turbulence of their travel breaking down the starry crystals causing them to pack together forming a heavy slab of snow on top of the new storm's layer. What looks breathtakingly pristine and alluring is in reality a torrent of death and destruction ticking under a blanket of crystals. Wind loaded slopes pose imminent and certain avalanche danger and settling them is done by dropping explosives into trigger zones.
If you held a charge of more or less dynamite between your legs, you'd probably lose a few hairs as well. Snow Safety Manager Richie Bingham blows up Easter Bowl.
Once initial control work has been satisfactorily executed, the reward of being a patroller is paid out with untracked turns down pristine powder bowls. Their runs however play an important role in not only inspecting the work but also settling any last pockets of instability. The rest of us stand above and stare green with envy, shifting restlessly in our boots.
It's what they call being in the big leagues. A patroller tests the slopes with lazy arcs under a tangerine sunrise.
The reality is the day has really only begun for the Sun Valley Ski Patrol. Once the ropes have been dropped and the first skiers plunge into the deep, the real work of "haulin' the fallen" begins with squawks over crackling radios identifying with intimate place names not found on the area map the next task of the day.
Photos: Tal Roberts