Utah's Mount Baldy -- which marks the boundary between Snowbird and Alta ski areas -- is the venue for this week's Subaru Freeskiing World Tour Championships at Snowbird. For this sixth and final stop on the 2011 Subaru Freeskiing World Tour, top big-mountain skiers will charge high-speed lines down West Baldy, Silver Fox and North Baldy/Amphitheater.
Mt. Baldy hasn't always been in-bounds terrain. When Alta and Snowbird first opened, U.S. Forest Service rangers and resort management had no plans to ever open Baldy due to the seriousness of the terrain and the high risk of avalanches. But over the years, they've gradually opened up various portions of the mountain.
In late January, Snowbird opened yet another zone on Mt. Baldy, unveiling its fifth substantial terrain expansion since the resort's inception in 1971. The last opening was in 1998. The new terrain is called Zone 5, and if offers approximately 1,200 vertical feet at an average pitch of 40 degrees on the northwest aspect of Baldy. None of the new venue will be part of this week's FWT contest.
The history of Baldy openings
Zone 1 -- 1971
Keyhole, Westward Ho and the terrain under the Amphitheater
Zone 2 -- 1985
West and northwest Baldy
Zone 3 -- 1990
Zone 4 -- 1998
Gun Tower Chutes
Zone 5 -- 2011
Comma Chute and Blackjack Chutes
The opening of Zone 5 represents a joint effort by Snowbird Corporation's COO Bob Bonar, director of winter operations Peter "Mongo" Schory and assistant director of snow safety Jimmy Collinson.
Collinson was the driving force behind the Zone 5 opening. While living in Snowbird's employee housing directly below Zone 5, Collinson -- the father of Freeskiing World Tour competitors Angel and Johnny Collinson, who will be competing this week -- has been literally staring at Zone 5 for more than 30 years. So he made it his mission to open the formerly closed area.
"The high level of riders at Snowbird and the avalanche control benefits drawn from rider compaction has allowed us to open Zone 5," Collinson said. "The Zone 5 opening helps us increase the accessibility to the Alta/Snowbird Bypass road and the lodging properties located under Zone 5."
For skiers, the opening means quite a bit more. "I heard rumors [that it was going to open] two weeks before but I didn't believe it until I saw the gate open," says local skier Dan Withey. "There is a tremendous variety of terrain and options; trees, rocks and chutes. It is rare that new terrain opens especially in what was considered a permanently closed area."
Stay tuned to ESPN Freeskiing for a recap of the Freeskiing World Tour Championships's finals on Saturday.