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For the week of Apr. 12 through Apr. 18, 2000

Disturbing the peace

Confronting the yurt destruction

"If this event succeeds in promoting understanding, then I’m not unhappy."

- Bob Jonas, Yurt owner

Express Staff Writer

In the March issue of Women’s Sports & Fitness, Rachel Urquhart, a New Yorker, described her recent experience staying in a yurt just north of Ketchum. Soaking in the yurt’s hot tub, she reflected:

"With the moon shining bright above us and stars everywhere in the blue-black sky, we found it easy to forget that we normally live a life full of traffic jams and apartment envy. There, for a moment, as we poached like eggs in the middle of a silent, snow-laden forest, we were at peace."

Somebody burned the yurts to the ground a week and a half ago, and now, Urquhart’s feeling of peace seems a little ironic.

the yurts before the fire
The Boulder yurts before the fire. Reports of conflicts have discouraged customers from renting yurts, ski hut owner Bob Jonas claimed; while snowmobilers, he said, vehemently refuse to relinquish territory to skiers. (Courtesy photo)


Trekking to the yurts is a continuous, two-mile, uphill push from the parked cars on Highway 75. This time of year, the snow melts and refreezes daily, causing the surface to glisten silver. Ski and snowmobile tracks spread out in every direction across the sloping valley floor below Boulder Mountain.

Yurt owner, Bob Jonas, a fit backcountry skier, maneuvers on backcountry skis as if he’s been wearing them almost all his life, which he has.

Jonas sports hard-shell boots, detached at the heel, and wide, steel-edged skis with snow-gripping textured bottoms. It’s hard to imagine him in anything but earth-toned Patagonia clothes, a wide, sun-shielding hat and mirrored glasses with prescription lenses.

"I’m a fun agent for this valley," Jonas explains.

All winter, he rents back-country huts to skiers who want to wake up to miles of virgin powder snow.

For the most part, skiers broke the trail leading to Jonas’ yurts. Now and then, the unmistakable washboard serration and twin ski marks of a snowmobile crisscross the trail. Skiers sometimes follow a snowmobile’s tracks, Jonas says, because the packed snow makes for easier travel.

The yurts sit below a low bench on the edge of Boulder Creek. Boulder mountain towers high to the north. On the west, rises a long cornice laced with dozens of parallel, vertical snowmobile tracks.

A stranger approaching the camp site, now, sees almost nothing except a wood shed, a strand of yellow police tape and two signs nailed to poles stuck in the snow: "Urine Here," "Kitchen Slop."

What remains of the actual yurts is two round, black depressions in the snow, each filled with a wood stove, charred wood fragments, burned fuel canisters, melted glass lantern shades and unrecognizable blackened bits and pieces. A bundle of fibers, resembling a long, white ponytail turns out to be the remains of a fiberglass ax handle.

"I’m the one that’s a full-blown loser here, materially," Jonas said, contemplating the wreckage. "But material things can be replaced."

About 60 feet south, a pair of week-old but still-discernible snowmobile tracks pass through the volunteer, no-snowmobile courtesy zone that envelopes the site. Jonas speculates about whether they are the tracks of arsonists who burned down his yurts. It’s impossible to know.

"If this event succeeds in promoting understanding," Jonas says, "then I’m not unhappy."

In recent years, the tension between snowmobilers and skiers in the Wood River Valley has been a three or four, Jonas says, "now it’s a 10."


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Copyright 2000 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.