Beloved local ski hill gains wildfire protection thanks to Youth Climate Corps

It’s little more than a ski lift and a couple of runs, but the Salmo Ski Hill is a treasured local gem. Run by a small and dedicated volunteer board, the ski hill has operated for decades on a leased parcel of crown land and attracts summer and winter recreationists to its slopes. Unfortunately, without appropriate forestry management, this property — like thousands of other hectares across B.C. — could pose a significant wildfire risk to nearby homes. 

Crew members gather to learn from Loki Tree Service specialists at the Salmo Ski Hill.

Located at the southern end of B.C.’s Inland Temperate Rainforest, valley bottom forests in Salmo and across the West Kootenay tend to see a lot of rain, and burn infrequently as a result. This lack of disturbance allows magnificent old growth cedar-hemlock stands and dense, complex understoreys to develop. Most of the time, moist conditions protect these forests from fire. But in dry and hot conditions — like those becoming more common with climate change — those dense understoreys can become the perfect tinderbox for catastrophic wildfires. For a forest located as close to homes as the Salmo Ski Hill, that’s a major problem. 

Thanks to a partnership between Wildsight’s Youth Climate Corps and the Salmo Ski Club Society, our 2024 West and East Kootenay crews supported a wildfire risk reduction project at the Salmo Ski Hill to address the overgrown, fire-prone landscape. Over five weeks the crews pruned, cut, piled and burnt excess vegetation over 4.6 hectares, safeguarding both the village of Salmo and residents living by the hill.

“Salmo Valley residents are passionate about their ski hill,” says Margaret MacDonald, Salmo Ski Club board member. “We thought it was a great opportunity when Wildsight approached the ski hill with the proposal.”

Crew members on-site at Salmo Ski Hill.

The nine crew members from both the West and East Kootenay teams started the project in mid-May with training on chainsaw safety and learning the basics of fire suppression under the direction of Loki Tree and Forest Service.

Taylor Sand, West Kootenay crew member, says while the work was physically demanding, it was satisfying to see daily results. She is set to graduate from a forestry program next spring, and says she believes this wildfire risk reduction work should be a part of BC’s future forest management plans.

“The work we’re doing, in my opinion, is the future of the forest,” says Taylor. “This is work that needs to be done for us to hopefully prevent the intensity and severity of the fires we’ve been seeing over the past years.”

Locals are grateful for the project and say it will go a long way to supporting the local community and area.

“The value of the ski hill for the local community and surrounding area, the limited capacity that the Salmo Ski Club Society has to address wildfire risk, and the significance of the ski hill area for wildfire risk at the landscape level and for the adjacent community and area make this a very important project,” reflects Margaret.

Wildfire risk reduction projects are a staple of Wildsight’s Youth Climate Corps. Since launching our first season in 2020, crews have completed five such projects, including near a residential neighbourhood in Golden, a treasured municipal park in Kimberley, and a community water source by Nelson

This project was made possible with support from the Columbia Basin Trust and the Province of BC, as well as the Salmo Ski Club and Loki Tree and Service.