In this monthly series, we check in with one of our adventurous locals to find out how they would spend a perfect 24 hours in Sun Valley.
Happy New Year! While some may be saying “good riddance” to 2020, we’re looking ahead with hope and mindfulness for the coming year. We’re so lucky to have incredible outdoor winter recreation in Sun Valley, and that’s due in no small part to the opportunities at Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain, Sun Valley Resort’s two ski areas. For this month’s 24 Hours Sun Valley, we tracked down Peter Stearns, Director of Mountain Operations at Sun Valley, to hear about his typical day in January and learn more about this unique winter season.
Welcome, Peter! Can you tell us a bit more about your role at Sun Valley Resort?
As the Director of Mountain Operations, my ultimate responsibility is the management of Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain. I work with a fantastic team, most of whom have been doing this kind of work for quite a long time.
You’ve been working at Sun Valley for quite a few years, is that right?
I’ve been with Sun Valley for 40 years this past June.
Wow, that’s impressive! On any given day in January, how would your morning start?
A workout is a good way to get my day started. I work with Jeff Conover at Rapid Results Personal Training. As much as I may hate it some days, I know it’s good for me.
A cup of coffee and a drive to work is next. I live in Hailey, and on the drive, well, today is a good example. I had to turn off my lights because I was chasing one of the several herds of elk up Buttercup Road, and there was a full moon above Carbonate Mountain. I’m glad to have raised my kids here. I look back and feel really good about them growing up in this place.
How would you spend the rest of the morning?
When I get into work, I bury myself in reports to make sure that the mountain is ready for our guests. I have a fantastic team with an enormous amount of experience and a tremendous passion for what they do. I ask, “Do we have everything ready to go? Are we prepared to open the doors?” We are focused on opening on time and safely. Safety is what drives everything around here; that’s paramount for us.
What many people don’t see is what happens in the summertime on the mountain. That’s where all our success lies. There’s a lot of summer work that goes into the snowmaking system, the lifts, and readying the slopes and trails. We need to have the whole machine ready to go for winter because once winter happens, you don’t have as much time to fix things. In the winter, our Mountain Vehicle Maintenance team is always doing considerable work day and night, keeping our grooming fleet online.
Do you ever get a chance to ski?
Actually, I just took my boots off! It seems like there is never enough time, but I do get out to do what I call “product testing.” It’s one thing I learned early on from my mentors, that you have to get on the mountain to know if it’s good skiing and where you can make it better. The idea is to get shoulder-to-shoulder with the team and see the outcomes of our efforts and how we can improve.
Our season is 144 days, and I’d love to ski every one of them. That doesn’t happen, but I’m happy when I get 125 or 130 days.
What has been unique about your role at Sun Valley this year?
For many years, my goal was to become the #1 ski resort in North America. We achieved that this year, which I’m very proud of. Now, my goal is to keep the resort open and running for the entire winter. I think it’s super important for our community to have the mountain open. This summer, we did a lot of networking with our partners in North America, Europe, and ski resorts in the Southern Hemisphere to figure out how we could run the winter season.
We feel like we’ve had great success. It was a challenge to reduce capacity, but we’ve managed it.
There’s such an appetite for outdoor recreation, and it’s so important to this community. I think that’s why we have such a high level of participation in the protocols we have in place. People have been generally positive, though we have to remind them to wear their masks a little more than I would hope for. We are asking people to be kind. If you want to play here, that’s the expectation.
What does your afternoon look like?
Hopefully, by the afternoon, I’ll have had the chance to ski the hill and look at what’s going on. Then, I’ll check in to see the various plans for grooming, snowmaking, etc. What’s in store for the night to address what we’ve seen during the day? My team has an incredible knowledge of every square inch of the hill. They know where our trouble spots lie—skiers move snow around the hill like you wouldn’t believe. There are a handful of places that always need a watchful eye, and we store reserves of snow that we move over on a regular basis.
There’s a strong collaboration between the teams on the mountain during the day and the team on the mountain at night. It’s a choreography that’s really fun to be a part of.
With your day on the mountain done, where would you grab a bite to eat?
I would have to say that Vintage has always been one of my favorites, as well as CK’s. Scott Mason has been a good friend of mine since grade school; we grew up together in Eugene, Oregon. Scott and his wife Annie have done a tremendous job with their restaurants Ketchum Grill, Town Square Tavern, and Enoteca. It’s hard for me to deviate from their rock shrimp and lemon noodles at Ketchum Grill. Thank you, Peter, for sharing your ideal 24hrs in Sun Valley January day! To learn more about Sun Valley’s 2020/2021 ski season, head to https://www.sunvalley.com/20-21-winter-season.