Backcountry skiing from yurts is among my favorite things to do in the winter months. And my favorite place to go isn’t in Utah, but in Idaho at one of the Sun Valley Trekking yurts in the Sawtooth National Forest. This year, we booked the Coyote Yurt, known for its access to 2,000-foot descents through glades of trees charred by the massive Beaver Creek Fire that decimated the Smokey Mountains in August of 2013. The yurt also burned down in that fire, but a new one was erected that same year right before the snow flew.
Excited to explore new terrain in a burned forest, myself, along with Mason Diedrich, Zach Scribner, Casey Zingg, Mike Eichorn and Mike DeBernardo set out from the Baker Creek parking lot with our guide, J.P. If you’ve never been to the yurt before, Sun Valley trekking requires that a guide show you the way. That’s totally cool as he towed us and our gear (and beer) on his snowmobile roughly 5 miles in – cutting off what would have been a long, exhausting haul. After the tow, it was a short skin up the mountain to the yurt.
The Coyote Yurt is actually two yurts – a kitchen/hangout yurt, and a bedroom yurt. The two structures are connected by a breezeway. Both yurts have wood-fired stoves and the configuration allows for plenty of space and storage of gear. It’s by far the best yurt setup I’ve ever seen. After J.P. got us settled in, he took off, leaving us to sneak in a short tour before dark. To get our bearings and check out the terrain, we skinned to the summit of Kit Fox Peak, the closest to the yurt. From there, we skied and snowboarded down the east side to the base of Fox Peak. The snow was very warm and wet, but still fun as we made turns in overcooked corn.
From there, we ascended Fox Peak, the largest mountain in the vicinity. Skinning through the burned forest was surreal, and we marveled at the twisted, blackened forms reaching to the sky. From the summit of Fox Peak, we saw for the first time how absolutely humongous the Beaver Creek wildfire was. On all sides, at every aspect, the mountains were lifeless. Countless toothpicks of black trunks cast innumerable shadows like natures barcodes in the setting sun.
Back at the yurt, apre’ was full-on. Dinner, beers, and a long session in the sauna rounded out the night. In fact, the sauna was our favorite thing as it was brand new, roomy, and heated with an efficient wood burning stove. There is absolutely no better way to relax tired muscles and restore our bodies after a hard day of skiing than by sweating it all away in a sauna. Before bed, we poured over topo maps and made a plan for the next day’s adventure.
The next morning broke warm but cloudy. Greenhousing was in full effect as evidenced by the increasingly soft snow. With a full itinerary, we skinned out early and went directly to Fox Peak. Skiing down the east side, the snow was soft and carvable corn. We played on snowy features like humpback shoulders and a natural halfpipe at the bottom of the drainage.
Beyond Fox Peak, we climbed a different mountain, labeled on the yurt’s topo map as “Pork Eater Peak.” Skinning up the north side, we discovered supportable corn and made good time to the top in order to ski it before the day’s heat turned everything into unsupportable mush. But once there, the views (as always) drew us in and we dallied for lunch and photo-taking.
Skiing and snowboarding down, we found the best snow of the trip. The north side of Pork Eater was creamy goodness, just wet enough to swoosh wide turns, and supportable enough for us to dig in deep with our edges and fly. At the bottom, we remarked how endless the terrain is around the Coyote Yurt, and vowed to return on a powder day.
Unfortunately, the snowpack got further away from powder the next day, as it rained overnight, leaving a breakable zipper crust over the entire snowpack. We attempted to ski despite the heinous conditions and made a few runs on a small mountain east of the yurt. But it was a novelty and we joked about how bad it was like needing a life vest for all this water skiing, or how we were skiing knee-deep… rehydrated powder. But the plus while staying at the Coyote Yurt is if the snow is bad, there’s always the sauna as a backup. And we took full advantage of that… and the unopened space bag of wine…
The terrain, the burnt trees, the solitude, and especially the double yurt and sauna setup has made the Coyote Yurt my new favorite destination when I come to Idaho for backcountry skiing. With year-round access for summer mountain biking, my friends and I are already making plans to return.
The Coyote Yurt is located at 8,700’ in the Smoky Mountains of central Idaho. The terrain around the yurt features open bowls to steep glades. Most of the slope angles are pretty mellow, which means you can find safe skiing, even when avalanche danger is high.
The route to the yurt from Baker Creek is long – around 6 miles while gaining 1,800 feet in elevation. The route finding can be difficult for first timers, so Sun Valley Trekking requires you to hire a guide up to the yurt. The extra cost of a snowmobile tow is well worth the money and leaves you more time to ski.
The Coyote yurts sleep up to 19 people, though that would be crowded. We found 11 people would be our personal limit based on the bed situation. The yurt is stocked with all needed amenities including wood stoves for heat and melting water, Goal Zero solar array to power lanterns and a Rockout speaker, a three burner propane stove for cooking, all pots, pans, and cookware (including a propane grill) all tableware and cutlery, bunks with Paco mattresses, brand new outhouse, and of course that wonderful sauna.
For current rental rates, guide and tow fees, or to reserve your own trip, visit www.svtrek.com