Who, What, Where, Now!
Baldy's Last Hurrah
photography by Nils Ribi
I notice the costumes first. (Man, people in this town love to dress up.) Some are better than others, but everyone tries… it is the last day on Baldy after all. At one end of the spectrum are the Halloween get ups. A batch of the good ones: a human parrot and a mystery bird, Pooh Bear and Eyeore, a woman attached to an inflatable horse and some businessmen. Then there are the one-piecers, those throwback neon wonders that we all should own --- if not strictly to use on winter's last hurrah. Finally, a quirky mess of accessories paints the rest of the crowd. Put on a wig and sunglasses and you've got a party. Put on some denim jorts (jean shorts), which just skied past me, and you've got an even bigger party. Today, all functionality is unquestionably displaced by the best on-mountain party this year.
Skiing is still the priority, but not necessarily the ability to do it well. In terms of attire, the louder the better. In terms of skiing, don't crash too hard.
Really, that is the logic and attitude for today. Hence the beer lines alongside the lifelines, starting in the early afternoon. The smiles on everyone’s faces. The sunburns being ignored. The breaking out in song. The dancing. The “Old’s Cool” patches hand sewn on jean vests. The “spread eagles” being displayed. And the dangerously short snowblades where skis should be.
The SunFest party (Sun Valley's official tagging of Sunday's ultimately unaccountable nonsense) is the skier's warble of skiing and drinking, which every so often gets put on repeat. Today that winning combination won't stop until the lifts shut down. To be clear, drinking and skiing has its risks. But that's another conversation and for this day, it seems to be another day’s worry. It's the last day of the year, the weather is sunny and warm, the snow is nice enough to handle tiny ski blades and decades-old snowboards; no one seems to be thinking twice about the beer. Or the mimosas.
Completing Sunday’s scene are the sounds, particularly the hollering, on the runs and from the lifts. It's like a raucous powder day, only we're cheering for slushy corn, old snow that is seeing its symbolic end. There will be more time to take inventory of the season’s storms and bluebird days. Today the whooping is an impulsive cry, a mixed expression of true joy as one season comes to an end and another begins. The physical noise culminates at the Lookout Lodge right before the day's end. It is a gathering of hundreds, with people on picnic tables all the way to the roof. We watch a guerilla-style fireworks show, which ends with the group's best howl, before the Sun Valley Ski Patrol understandably gets the rowdiness off the mountain.
Baldy's last day witnesses the entire cross section of pass-holders. Regardless of whether you lumber up the mountain less than five days a year or crunch out more than 100, the season's final opportunity is always a ski day. As the party eventually split to the parking lots in Warm Springs (complete with Vanagons, dogs and camping chairs) and the patio at River Run (Old Death Whisper, face-painting, sunshine, dancing, more costumes, more beers, more people), the demographic of the crowds become clearer. What we have on the last day is: everyone.
This was a town-wide celebration. One that was fatefully sunny, just warm enough to ski in almost anything. There were beers and birds, and some bad skiing. It happens once a year and it's viscerally awesome. It is a day to celebrate the season. And celebrate we did. As my grandpa would say, "You done good, Sun Valley!"