When I was told I was riding "The Beast" at Sun Valley Resort, I didn't have a clue what I had signed up for. Sure, I had seen some photos online of people riding the snowcat and going up the mountain, but I had no know idea how cool this experience was going to be.
If you asked me how I would spend 4 hours of my Saturday evening, I wouldn't have ever guessed it would've been in a snowcat on Bald Mountain, Sun Valley. Though if you were to ask me now how I would like to spend my evening, it would definitely be in one of the "Beasts".
You walk into Mountain Operations HQ and sit down in a conference room. One by one, the snow grooming team walks in, all with different assortments of caffeine to prepare for the 8-hour shift about to start at 4 pm. It's collaborative. Everyone shares their experience — from grooming the snow the night before and skiing the slopes that day — the leader talks about goals for that night and what to prepare for the upcoming week.
Still don't know what it is I am doing?
I am hanging out with the people who create, make, brake, and build the ski resort's slopes, bowls, black diamond runs, catwalks, and corduroy grooms for you to enjoy the next day on your skis. Welcome to Bald Mountain.
Who would of thought so much goes into this process? Not I. After a preparation meeting for the first shift (first shift is 4 to midnight, then there's a graveyard shift from midnight to 8 am), we walk over to the snowcats. "The Beast" (nickname for the snowcat) is the world's largest slope groomer; and what better place for it to be used than the renowned slopes of Sun Valley.
As you ascend the mountain, you get an insight into what it is like to be a part of the team. Each groomer helps each other out, as the snowcats have different skill sets. Some can go up steeper cliffs, others push snow in greater piles and so on. Jim, our driver, has been doing this for over 30 years and it's easy to see why — he has the best office in the world. The views from the top are breathtaking. The valley starts to light up as the sun fades away. The air is crisp, the sky is clear and Ketchum sparkles in the distance below.
Inside the snowcat, it's comfortable — so comfortable I may or may not have momentarily fallen asleep from the humming sound of the blades turning on Christmas mountain. Watching the tilling blades turn and leave trails of corduroy is mesmerizing. Four hours passed quite fast, and soon enough it was time to call it a night. Jim told us stories, let us ask any question we could think of, and we chuckled away the time together — it was as if we were old friends. There were thrilling moments as we tipped over edges and looked down the steep verticals of the mountain and it made the experience all that more exciting (yes I squealed).
Next time your in Sun Valley, don't just ride your snowboard or skis, ride "The Beast".
Every week there is a raffle for Friday and Saturday night rides in "The Beast" where two lucky people get to go and do this once in a lifetime experience. You can sign up for the raffle at the Recreation Center at the Sun Valley Village.
Dress decently warm, though the inside of "The Beast" is heated. Wear shoes appropriate to be on slick snow and climb up into the machine. A camera is definitely needed as the views are stunning. Not recommended if you get motion sickness or are afraid of heights. Go to the Roundhouse at the top of the gondola afterwards for fondue and drinks (reservations recommended). Try not to have too much fun!
Facts About "The Beast" and Sun Valley
-Cost is a half million dollars
-They weigh 30,000 pounds
-It boasts a 23-foot blade
-The snowcat is high tech with a touchscreen computer and a joystick like a video game
-It takes 7 groomers 16-hours (two 8-hour shifts) to cover Bald Mountain's 300+ acres every night
-Sun Valley's Bald Mountain has 555 snow guns, meaning there is never a bad day of snow
-Warm Springs Run is 3000 vertical feet of uninterrupted groomed perfection — a.k.a the best run of your life
-12 lifts and 66 runs create the perfect winter paradise on Bald Mountain
Thank you to Sun Valley for hosting me. As always, all opinions are own.
"The Beast" (click through for photos...)