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Fire Burns Through Heart Of South Central Idaho Ski Resort

U.S. Forest Service
Soldier Mountain Ski Area is seen from the air on Aug. 9, 2020, as firefighters work to contain the Phillips Creek Fire.

The Phillips Creek fire began on August 5 with a lightning strike north of Fairfield. It grew to more than 2,000 acres and was 100% contained on August 12. But last weekend, when flames were still roaming, the fire tore right through Soldier Mountain Ski Area.



Soldier Mountain was set to unveil a new mountain bike trail system over the weekend, when the fire put the opening to a halt. 

On Friday morning, the fire moved in toward the ski resort, and people on the property were evacuated before the main access bridge burned later that day.


“It looks like a lunar landscape," said Soldier Mountain's new general manager Paul Alden. "It’s very discouraging — that beautiful mountain with the aspen groves we had installed the bike trails in are gone.”

Credit U.S. Forest Service
Forest Service, BLM and local firefighters were able to save a number of structures in the Soldier Creek drainage during the early days of the Phillips Creek Fire.

Alden was brought in by the ski area's new owner, Ascent Ventures, a company based in Lehi, Utah. The sale from previous owners Diane and Matt McFerran went through last Thursday, one day before the fire made its way to the resort.  

The team is still in a state of shock, Alden said. The ski lodge is intact, but the fire came right up to its porch -- along with several other structures and houses, it was "heroically" saved by the firefighters, he said.

The magic carpet on the bunny hill, however, melted, and snow-making equipment that hadn't been in use recently was destroyed. The big task ahead is brining in inspectors to make sure the ski lifts are still structurally sound.

Alden said the new owners will keep working toward their vision of the resort once owned by actor Bruce Willis.

“It’s just a gem waiting to be taken out of its velvet-lined box," he said.

The McFerrans, who bought the resort in 2015 and put it up for sale a couple years ago, will stay involved with Soldier's operations -- Matt as the mountain manager and Diane as the base lodge manager.


Though mountain biking won't open at Soldier Mountain this summer, future plans for the ski area include constructing lodging and implementing snow-making machines. Soldier finished its season in early March after a winter of record low snowfall in the surrounding mountains, before the pandemic closed down nearly every other resort.


Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.