Friday, May 24, 2019
Sun Valley Snowpocalypse Sets Record, Wreaks Havoc
A slide damaged this home at the mouth of East Fork Canyon Monday night. PHOTO: Blaine County Sheriff
Wednesday, February 27, 2019


Sun Valley Resort set a snow record for the month of February as of 6 a.m. Tuesday.

And they didn’t even need a leap year to do it.

But the Snowmageddon that brought more fresh powder to Bald Mountain wreaked havoc throughout the Wood River Valley on Tuesday, burying two homes in East Fork, closing the highway north of Ketchum and creating lakes on roadways.

Crews worked to reopen Idaho 75 near Lake Creek Road. PHOTO: Blaine County Sheriff

Sawtooth Avalanche Center forecaster Ethan Davis issued an “extreme avalanche rating” Tuesday night through Thursday morning, warning that the danger was increasing with another wave of heavy snow and rain forecast to hit various parts of the valley.

New snow and have created very dangerous avalanche conditions, according to Davis. Slides will continue to threaten trails, roadways and structures in the valley bottom so stay aware. Naturally occurring avalanches could be large enough to destroy a house, he added.


The Sun Valley Ski Patrol announced that 120 inches of snow had fallen on Bald Mountain since the beginning of February. That’s 10 feet of snow.

That’s the most the resort has tallied during February since the resort began measuring snowfall 51 years ago during the 1967-78 season, said the resort’s spokesperson Kelli Lusk. The previous record was  119.5 inches that fell during the Snowpocalypse of February 2017.

It’s eclipsed only by the 129.5 inches that fell in January 1969. But it’s possible the resort could approach that with more snow forecast today and Thursday, Feb. 28.

The resort got seven more inches overnight--10 in the last 24 hours.

The resort has not decided when it will close, said Lusk. According to the usual schedule, Dollar Mountain would probably close on March 31, Seattle Ridge and River Run on April 7 and the rest of the mountain, April 14. But, with all the snow, it’s possible officials could decide to extend the season, she said.


An avalanche slammed into two homes at the mouth of East Fork Canyon late Monday night, breaking through glass doors and windows and sending considerable snow, trees and debris into the homes. The debris continued south near the bridge over the Big Wood River all the way to where the old railroad track—now the bike and Nordic ski path--used to be.

The Sun Valley Fire Department and others responded to the emergency at Audubon Place at about 11:30 p.m., said Fire Chief Taan Robrahn. Those inside the two homes were not injured—they were upstairs in one home and at the far end of the other house when the avalanche hit.

Firefighters got the residents out and advised them to leave for the night. And they urged nearby homeowners to evacuate, as well. Firefighters stayed on the scene assessing damage until about 2 p.m., closing the road overnight.

They returned in the morning with forecasters from the Sawtooth National Avalanche Center to further assess the damage.

Debris temporarily blocked the Big Wood River, but water forged a tunnel through it and it was flowing normally again by mid-day.

These avalanches were preceded by an avalanche that blew out the windows of a home in Lake Creek during the last snow cycle and a slide along Warm Springs Road that displaced water from Penny Lake, destroying the dock.


A slide occurred near the cliffs at Lake Creek just north of Ketchum at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, blocking the highway with cars stuck on both sides.

While Idaho Transportation Department crews were working to clear that slide, a second occurred about 2 p.m. between Lake Creek Road and Glassford Heights Drive. Crews cleared both and reopened the highway by 2:20 p.m.


Officials closed Highway 75 between Chocolate Gulch and Stanley early Tuesday morning because of drifting snow across the road and an avalanche on Galena Summit that rendered the road impassable.

The road closure left Galena Lodge empty after a foot and half of new snow had fallen overnight, said Sam Curtis.

“It felt bizarre,” he added. “It was our first closed day all season.”

The road closure was later amended; it now starts just north of SNRA headquarters, extending to the Smiley Creek airstrip.

US 20 was also closed due to drifting snow, and US 93 was closed due to large animals on the road and rock fall danger. Idaho 21 west of Stanley was closed due to deep snow, and Idaho 33 eastbound to Jackson was closed due to avalanche control work.

Several semis were stuck between Carey and Arco Wednesday, and slides have been reported on Warm Springs road at the end of the pavement.


Another slide occurred Tuesday on Della Mountain where two avalanches had blocked the Big Wood River a few weeks ago, sending water into some homes in Della View neighborhood. This slide was minor and caused no significant problems.

“But there’s a lot of snow, a lot of water content up there so anything could happen,” said Hailey Fire Chief Aberbach said.


While snow fell most of the day in Ketchum and Sun Valley, a mix of rain and snow plagued Bellevue and Hailey, which posted the high temperature for southern Idaho at 37 degrees at 5 p.m.

The extreme weather conditions were responsible for at least one rollover on Gannett Road Tuesday morning, said Aberbach. Many cars with low clearance were also getting stuck in slushy conditions on side roads, he added.

“If you don’t have good clearance, stick to the main streets that have been plowed,” he said. “Wear warm clothing and appropriate footwear like rubber boots, take a couple bottles of water and have someone you can call for help.”

Lakes have been covering two lanes of Highway 75 just north of the hospital, and large lakes have been seen on other roads, as well.

If you must drive through them, do so slowly. You could hydroplane and lose control if you speed through them, said Aberbach.

Sheet flooding—rain falling on frozen snow or saturated ground—caused flooding last year in side canyons above Hailey and Bellevue, Aberbach said. “Right now, we have the potential for anything. The city is even working to clear the dry wells on Main Street.”

And elk are taking up residence in many driveways and streets, not fond of the idea of traipsing through four and five feet of snow.


Blaine County Emergency officials are urging Wood River Valley residents to be aware if they live in an avalanche-prone area.

Don’t walk between your house and the hillside. Sleep in a second-floor bedroom and on the opposite side of the house away from doors or windows that face the hillside, if possible. Consider staying somewhere other than your residence.

Those with steep metal roofs are reminded that large amounts of snow can slide, causing injury or even killing someone.

It goes without saying that backcountry skiing, boarding and snowmobiling is risky behavior right now.


Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning by making sure your exhaust and intake stacks for fireplaces, chimneys, water heaters and gas furnaces are not clogged with snow. Some intakes are on the roofs; others are vented on the sides of homes.

If you smell gas, call 911.

And, if you shovel your roof, don’t shovel snow onto your gas meter below—falling snow could create a gas leak.


Be sure the fire hydrant in your neighborhood is shoveled out, in case there’s an emergency.


The current roof snow load at Chocolate Gulch north of Ketchum in Hailey as of Tuesday, Feb. 26, was estimated to be 70.20 pounds per square foot.

Local building officials measured 54 pounds per square foot at the Old Courthouse in Hailey, 57.5 pounds per square foot at Audubon Drive, 57.5 pounds per square foot at Lower Board Ranch and 64 pounds per square foot at Hulen Meadows.

Today’s buildings in Hailey are constructed to withstand a minimum of 100 pounds per square foot snow load, according to Community Development Director Lisa Horowitz. Structures built before 1977 could have a roof system design built to handle between 40 and 80 pounds of snow depending on their age and quality of construction.

Older flat-roofed structures are at greater risk, and it is strongly advised that those roofs be shoveled when loads reach 60 pounds per square foot.

You can determine your roof’s capacity through an engineer. For more information, call the Community Development Department at 208-788-9815, extension 27.

There are a few warning signs that the snow load is stressing your house:

  • Cracking, creaking or popping sounds
  • Bowing trusses or joists
  • Doors and or windows that will not open
  • Cracked or split structural members.


Wood River Valley residents are beginning to take bets on whether the highway south of Ketchum can survive many more days of snowy weather. Idaho Transportation Department workers attempted to fill some of the worst cavities during a brief lull in the snow last week. But the highway appears to be turning into a dirt road right before motorists’ eyes.


Up to 20 more inches could fall on you between now and Thursday morning, depending on where you are in the valley.

 Accumulations were expected to range from eight inches in the Stanley Basin and Ketchum to 24 inches on Galena Summit.


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