The Fire That Saved Sun Valley - Ski Mag

After another historically devastating year of natural calamities and the worst wildfires in recent history, Visit Sun Valley brings us a short film about learning to adapt in a changing world and to the natural phenomena we cannot control.

The Fire That Saved Sun Valley, produced and directed by Jeff Thomas and featuring professional mountain guide Joe St. Onge plus professional skiers Tyler Ceccanti, Anna Segal and Collin Collins, chronicles the aftermath of two of Central Idaho’s most destructive wildfires in recent years, and details how destruction inevitably results in change.

The Fire That Saved Sun Valley 

On August 19, 2007, nine different wildfires threatened Sun Valley and its surrounding towns of Ketchum and Hailey. While most of the wildfires were managed, the Castle Rock fire was the one that got away. Ignited by a single bolt of lightning, the Castle Rock burned 48,520 acres of Smoky Mountain backcountry in 20 days. No lives or homes were lost, but locals were devastated nonetheless. 

It wasn’t until six years later that the same locals would come to see the Castle Rock fire as a blessing in disguise. On August 17, 2013, lighting struck again in Idaho's backcountry, sparking the Beaver Creek wildfire which burned across 114,900 acres of the Sawtooth National Forest. Though it burned ferociously and destroyed thousands of acres of surrounding forests, it couldn’t make its way to Sun Valley and its neighboring towns.

“Beaver Creek hit the Castle Rock firewall like water against stone,” the narration reveals in the film. Only then did people realize that the Castle Rock fire had been a blessing, its burn area serving as a safeguard against other fires around Sun Valley.

Read more: Protect Our Winters (POW) Launches New Action Fund

Coyote Yurt, Sun Valley Trekking

St. Onge rebuilt the Coyote Yurt after the Beaver Creek destroyed the original. 

While the Beaver Creek fire didn’t destroy Sun Valley, it did destroy something dear to St. Onge, owner and head guide of Sun Valley Trekking: his backcountry refuge, the Coyote Yurt. But taking a cue from the land around him, St. Onge’s made peace with the fire and simply decided to adapt and rebuild. And though the fire burned the original yurt to the ground, the resulting natural thinning of the forest around the yurt actually opened up and enhanced backcountry skiing in the area.

Just watch the video and see for yourself: Ceccanti, Segal, and Collins find no-end of perfectly spaced tree lines in the Beaver Creek and Castle Rock burn areas. The film is a gentle reminder that wildfires are destructive and scary, but they are a natural phenomena that wreak havoc on nature only to revitalize it in their wake. 


Reggie Crist in Sun Valley

Inside Line: Sun Valley, ID

Sun Valley oozes history. In 1936, it debuted the world’s first chairlift and became a full-fledged destination resort, drawing visitors like Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway, and Louis Armstrong. And in 1946, Warren Miller started making ski movies there. Today, Sun Valley’s the home of ski-film stars Zach and Reggie Crist and the premier heli-ski outfitter in Idaho. But the real reason it’s a resort for the ages: Sun Valley’s terrain—ranging from high-speed rippers to wide-open bowls—never gets old.

The Gathering thumb

The Gathering: Sun Valley, ID

The Gathering, a movie and music festival, took place last weekend in Sun Valley, Idaho, for the second year in a row. Movies were watched, shotguns were fired, and rednecks listened to reggae.

Sun Valley has a wealth of restaurants, both fine dining for a romantic date and casual family-friendly hotspots.  To play it fancy, visit the Lodge Dining Room.  For a hearty prime rib, go to the Pioneer Saloon.  Look no further than Il Naso for an urban Italian experience.  To spend quality time with your family overlooking the ice rink, head to Gretchen's.

Sun Valley

Sun Valley’s terrain—ranging from high-speed rippers to wide-open bowls—never gets old.

Gru and Aseltine revel in great powder conditions during their Wintertux adventure.

Powder Hounds

Deep in Idaho's Sawtooth National Forest, life is simple: Skin up. Ski Down. Roll around in the snow. Just remember to bring extra pairs of wool socks.

Bald Mountain’s shady north face is named after the hot springs-fed creek that runs through the base area. The signature run, Warm Springs, is one of the classic groomer descents in the country. If you can’t have fun on Warm Springs, you need a fresh tune and a ski lesson. This is not the place to slide a turn or suck at skiing. Few things compare to over 3,000 vertical feet of high-speed GS turns down this alley. Your legs will tremble and your lips will quiver with a strange mix of terror, excitement, and exhaustion. Warm Springs will make you remember that like powder, carving is pretty damn exhilarating. Plus, if you luck out with a fat storm with southwest flow, The Burn, the sidecountry zone created by the 2007 Castle Rock wildfire just off Warm Spring’s western boundary, is some of the best powder skiing in the country.

Secrets to Skiing Sun Valley

It’s a simple existence in Sun Valley, Idaho. Ski, party, repeat. But combine a demanding mountain with celebrity sightings and seemingly bottomless schooners of beer, and spending time at America’s most storied ski resort is anything but easy. Here’s a guide to doing it right.