Backcountry

The Fire That Saved Sun Valley

A new short film about a wildfire that protected the iconic Idaho ski town.

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.

Coyote Yurt, Sun Valley Trekking
St. Onge rebuilt the Coyote Yurt after the Beaver Creek destroyed the original. Photo credit: Ray Gadd

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.