With Labor Day in the rear view and the first snows dusting the high peaks around Bald Mountain last week, ski season is blowing closer with each cold gust toward fall.
When it reaches Sun Valley, the rebuilt Warm Springs day lodge won’t be far behind.
The resort hopes to open the building by Christmas, according to company spokeswoman Kelli Lusk, just over eight months after the multi-million-dollar facility was gutted by fire one week after the season ended last spring.
The overnight blaze crept out of four plastic garbage cans on April 18 before reaching to the roof of the log-framed lodge, the Ketchum Fire Department concluded. Investigators never determined the exact cause.
But the flames—and, subsequently, the smoke and the water to quell it—that claimed the roof and plush interior cleared the way for a large-scale redesign of the lodge, adding space, seating and sunlight while keeping the building’s classic mountain character intact.
“This was one of the first lodges in the ski industry to use this style,” Sun Valley Director of Food and Beverage Jim Snyder said of the log-and-stone structure. “Now, it’s been emulated all over the world, even here.”
Most of that frame—composed of massive, old-growth beams the diameter of beer kegs—survived intact. Had they burned, Snyder said, he doesn’t know if they could even be replaced: “At least you’d have to wait a long time,” he said. But millions of gallons of water flooded the shell, which was coated with soot by the time local crews cooled the fire after a long night’s work.
The water was mostly what Snyder noticed when the engines left. Then he noticed the superstructure, which, somehow, seemed sound.
“It was built so well the first time—that’s why we were able to move so fast,” he said. “We started on it immediately. When you have that much water, you’ve got to dry it quickly. The Holdings [who own the resort] were in here the very next day, planning what to do next.”
That plan would eventually become the new, opened-up design for a more efficient, higher-capacity day lodge, Snyder said.
When the ribbon is cut this winter, the building will have 100 more seats, up to 264 from 164. Some will go where the ski school and skier-services desk used to be next to the servery; all of those operations will be consolidated in the retail shop on the Picabo Street side of the building. And, closing off the main middle entrance to the building, formerly lined with cubbies for gear, opened up even more extra space.
So did moving the bar to face the mountain. Guests will be able to drink with a view of Lower Warm Springs run and the Challenger lift, which look closer than ever thanks to a new bank of large-paned windows.
“It’s a really bright space,” Snyder said. “We’ll have new everything—new TVs, new light fixtures, new tables, new chairs. It’ll be a more modern space.”
With a 90-inch TV over the fireplace downstairs and a 70-inch screen on the second floor, it’ll also be a place where Sun Valley expects people to sit down and watch a game during ski season—with confidence they’ll find a place to sit, even during peak rush.
“I think there were a lot of traffic jams before,” Lusk said. “The new layout, it moves so much better.”
That’s true for the behind-the-scenes spaces as well, which were hit hardest by the fire. Architects revamped the kitchen and storage areas. Then, Snyder said, they overhauled the sprinkler system, which failed to contain the fire last spring, according to Ketchum Fire’s report.
The menu will receive an update, too. It will keep the classics like pizza, potatoes and warm cookies when the bell, salvaged from April’s wreckage, rings each day. But the new lineup will also feature pho, a brothy Vietnamese noodle soup, and an offshoot of Sun Valley’s Konditorei bakery, serving its hallmark coffee and pastries.
Right now, the plan is to open Konditorei Warm Springs at 8 a.m. so local residents can pick up breakfast before the lifts start in the morning.
Ongoing construction won’t stop Challenger from spinning as soon as weather allows, Lusk said.
The Warm Springs side opens after River Run, which the resort tries to open on Thanksgiving Day. Warm Springs typically follows around the second week of December, snow dependent.
On Monday morning, crews started work in temperatures dipping to 40 degrees. Inside, wires dangled down in their insulators, marking the locations of future lights, fast en route. An aerial lift rolled and stretched across the unfinished plywood floor to reach the high beams of the ceiling. There was work to be done—hoods to hang in the kitchen, drywall to cut. Outside, the heated paving stones had broken under the weight of fire trucks and heavy equipment—they’d have to be replaced after the interior, Snyder said.
Backed by support up and down his company, Snyder said he was confident they would be, soon enough.
“We’re really fortunate to be in this position, with our ownership and our leadership,” he said. “There’s so much corporate consolidation happening in the ski area that we’re becoming unique. We’re very much an independent operator, and proud of it.”