Every fall for 45 years, Rich Bingham has looked to the skies over Sun Valley in anticipation. As days grow short and trees turn gold, his excitement mounts.
There’s a palpable and understated inevitability to the arrival of winter in the mountains. The cycle of the seasons dictates life here, and no single season is as synonymous with Sun Valley as winter. Snowflakes have been changing lives in Sun Valley since the resort was founded 76 years ago. “I started getting excited a month ago,” Bingham said in early October. “I’ve been doing it so long I’ve learned to be patient, but I’m definitely thinking about another winter on Baldy.”
Bingham has worked on the Sun Valley Ski Patrol since fall 1967. As snow safety department director, his responsibilities include weather and avalanche forecasting, and avalanche control on Bald Mountain, so he’s always got an eye trained on the sky. He’s learned not to get uptight about Mother Nature’s fickle sensibilities. Sometimes it snows, sometimes it doesn’t. But when the jet stream drops out of Canada and begins pumping swirling masses of Pacific-born moisture into the Rocky Mountains, his demeanor changes as he prepares for another winter on what he describes as “a special mountain.”
Plentiful snow equals excellent skiing and snowboarding, but it also means improved spring runoff, and green, healthy forests in the summer. And each falling snowflake translates directly into improved financial vitality for the communities nestled at Bald Mountain’s base.
From its celebrated founding to present day, Sun Valley Resort has been dependent on snowy winter seasons. In a world in which climate patterns are increasingly erratic—exemplified by super storms like October’s Hurricane Sandy, heightened Western wildfire seasons and the historic April 2011 outbreak of tornadoes in the Southeast—most climate scientists agree that change is afoot. What it means for weather-dependent communities and resorts, however, is a plot yet to be completely written. “Long-term trends are kind of all over the place,” Bingham said. “With the influences changing so much, with the arctic oscillation and sea ice and temperatures—the weather is less predictable, with stronger and more erratic storms when they do happen.”
- Click here to read more of this 2,500-word feature about the tradition of snow in central Idaho–and what climate change could mean for the future of skiing.