Thanksgiving means many different things to people all over the country. To some, it signifies a time to gather their loved ones and reflect on the things for which they are grateful. For others, it’s a day to shamelessly spend an entire day watching American football. To a Sun Valley native like myself, however, it means something entirely different: Opening Day on Baldy.
For the past five years, I’ve found myself celebrating Turkey Day in varied ways; from an American inspired feast with a Vietnamese family in Hanoi, to a misfit dinner of twenty-something’s in New York City, it has been impossible to predict just where or how I would end up celebrating what I’m most thankful for. After much wishful thinking to be in my beloved hometown for the celebration, it finally happened, and I can’t say that I was underwhelmed.
My memory of Opening Day has been skewed over the years. When I think of the first day of ski season, I envision the Wood River Valley blanketed in white, not so much as a patch of brown showing among the peaks. The lifts are servicing most of the mountain. The bowls aren’t open, but my jelly legs aren’t ready for such aggressive runs just yet, and I’m content to run laps on Ridge to Cut Off.
Of course, this hasn’t been a reality for our humble Baldy in some time. I started my ski season in early November, boot-packing to the top a few times to make some turns in what little snow there was. My logic was telling me that once the lifts started running again, the snow would come swooping in, right? Not quite.
By the time I made my way to River Run on Opening Day Thursday afternoon, the parking lots were more full than expected and large amounts of skiers and boarders were clearly visible coming down the hill. My heart sank at the thought of sharing such limited space with half of Ketchum, but I continued to put on a good face, to hope that my depth perception was skewed and I’d find some solace somewhere among the masses.
The chairlift ride to the top revealed the exposed reality of my ski dreams – Holiday had rocks instead of moguls, tall plants sprung from a thin layer of snow on Cut Off, and, worst of all, Ridge sat brown and blank under the sun’s gaze. Upper College, Baldy’s unofficial “Double Black Diamond,” was the only option to get down from the top, and it was exceptionally difficult with the masses skating around on the manmade surface.
After dodging some flying wedges at the top and skidding precariously along the Ski Patrol Boundary rope, I found myself on a fast track over to Roundhouse Slope, which was easily the best kept secret of the day. With soft snow and a beautiful view, I found myself grinning ear to ear, and the reason for why I came up on such a “soft” opening day. It wasn’t about the bragging rights, to show I’m a “dedicated skier,” but to remind myself of how thankful I am to have been raised here, to have been so fortunate to learn the joy of skiing and to be part of a family as well as a community who shares such a passion for snow sports that brings us together above all other things.
The amount of skiers and boarders out on Thanksgiving this year was comparable to an average day in January, when the mountain offers a majority of its runs. Seeing so many ecstatic faces about the start of ski season, whether familiar or not, has convinced me that I will not be missing another Opening Day anytime soon, regardless of how much snow there is up top.