Words by Seb Kemp
Photos by Craig Wolfrom
On August 7, a wild fire was sparked by a lightning strike on the dry forest floor near Beaver Creek, an area of backcountry surrounding Sun Valley and Ketchum, Idaho. Unforgiving winds, low humidity and high temperatures provided the perfect ingredients for the fire to rage, threatening the homes and infrastructure of locals, including Highway 75, the only means of retreat. 2,250 homes were evacuated while 1,200 personnel fought the blaze that, at its peak, covered an area of 173-square miles. By the end of August the fire had been contained with no injuries being sustained.
Eventually residents were cleared to return and life started to return to usual. While this must have been a very nerve-racking time for Sun Valley locals, it doesn't mean that they have been left despondent. Bike's esteemed Agony Aunt, Greg "Chopper" Randolph lives and breathes Sun Valley singletrack and was kind enough to take time out to fill us in on what this means for the future of the resort and the riding there. Bottom line: it's not all bad.
"This year Central Idaho got primed for fire conditions around the middle of August and a series of events put us right in the barrel of the gun,” explains Chopper. “Seasonally hot and dry conditions were in full affect when a significant electrical weather event moved into the area starting multiple fires between Boise and Sun Valley. Winds were gusting from west to east and a lightning strike in the Beaver Creek area to the west of town sparked a small fire. Response teams were unable to control it and within 72 hours it was raging on a collision course with some of the area’s renowned trails.
“In 2007 the Greenhorn Gulch area had been hit, which affected about half of the trail network. The other half with the same sort of mature pine and fir forest fell victim to the sparks and it burned extremely hot, one of the hottest fires recorded in fact. Deer Creek which also holds a significant amount of prime singletrack lit up as well and the fire ran all the way to Highway 75 between Hailey and Ketchum."
Forest fires are nature's reset button, and although the experience of familiar trails changes for mountain bikers, it doesn’t have to be for the worse, as Chopper explains.
"While the burn is at first a bit of a sad sight, a year later, the revegetation and new growth gets rolling and quickly a black charred scar turns into a beautiful if not breathtaking example of the cycle of life. Wild flowers, willows, and understory come back bigger and more brilliant than ever before and set against the backdrop of charred trees it is something that everyone ought to experience at least once in their life. The trails get rehabilitated and in many cases improved and within a year things are back in order. With the 2007 fire and now the Beaver Creek, a majority of available fuel in the forest has been taken out and we are looking good for the next 100 years!"
If anyone was considering a late summer riding vacation to SunValley then don't be put off by the incident. There's still a lot more to ride and this could be a chance to explore some trails that you otherwise might have overlooked.
"With over 400 miles of singletrack right in the valley plus an additional 300-plus miles just 45 minutes to the north of us, we’ve really only had a sliver of the overall trail mileage taken out of play for the next year or so. The Greenhorn Gulch and Deer Creek trail networks account for only about 20 percent of the overall local mileage. With so many trails here, you can still come and ride for days and never run out of cool new trails to session. We are blessed to have so much riding in the area and while this is a bummer to lose some great trails for the short term, there is no reason not to come and get your ride on."
Read about some of Bike Mag's previous adventures in the region.
Idaho’s Finest: White Cloud riding. Video and magazine feature.
Bike week Sun Valley, Idaho photo gallery and video.
Feature: Sun Valley Super Enduro race.