IDAHO SKI ROAD TRIP MOVES ON
20th February 2018 | James Cove, Idaho
Last modified on November 17th, 2020
We’re heading from Boise to McCall in deepest Idaho and the ski resorts of Brundage Mountain & Tamarack. The journey itself proved an adventure.
PlanetSKI’s Road Trip in Idaho:
BOSIE TO McCALL
I’ve never been in a Hollywood film before.
But as we drove through Idaho City (population 458) on the way to McCall I was about to have my first walk-on role.
We had a nose round the town. There wasn’t a soul around.
Idaho City even has a County Court House, though with its small population it is either rarely in use or the locals have little respect for the law.
The building was bought for $1,000 in 1909 and the court still sits to this day.
Time for a coffee and we headed to Harley’s Bar.
“You boys left your guns in your car or if you have them with you then can you unload them and hand ’em over?” said the landlady as we walked in.
I wondered if she was Kim or Cathy.
“I don’t have one,” I said as the words came out in the plumiest of English accents.
“Well that’s good because we don’t like trouble in here. You folks ain’t from around here are you?” she said.
It was more of an accusation than a statement of fact.
As I glanced at the locals I could see the scene I was in had been played out on the silver screen of many a Hollywood film.
“You from Australia?” she asked.
Now at this point I normally answer Americans who ask me that with a stock answer.
“No I’m from London in England. Which part of Canada are you from?”
This was not the place for such a response.
Suffice to say within minutes we were chatting to the locals, hearing about the huge snowfalls of last winter, the massive summer forest fires and the harsh existence of living in such a place.
We steered clear of politics as this is most definitely Trump country.
And as we came to pay:
“It’s on the house boys, we don’t get so many strangers passing through here and we’ve appreciated your coming to see us. We want you to remember us as generous and friendly,” said Cathy.
We headed deeper into the backcountry.
On a road trip such as this you can often gauge how far away from civilisation you are by the state of the gas stations.
We were off the beaten track.
And you can judge things by the characters you meet in local bars and coffee shops en route.
Next stop McCall.
It looked rather good on arrival.
And tomorrow the only driving we’re doing is 30 minutes to the ski resort of Brundage Mountain – it’s on the other side of the lake.
Bring it on
BRUNDAGE MOUNTAIN, IDAHO
“What do you want to ski this afternoon,” said my ski guide for the afternoon, Spencer La Marche, from Brundage Mountain resort.
“Powder,” was my one word answer.
So we did.
We rode the top lift and then it was a short hike up to the area known as ‘The G-Spot’.
And then this:
Apart from seeing the resort I was also testing out a revolutionary new ski I’d recently heard about, the Elan Ribstick.
They’re at work in the powder in the videos above.
The two skis have a left and a right with difference edges – see my report below on what they are like.
So, what of Brundage Mountain?
It has become perhaps my favourite undiscovered ski resort in North America.
“We don’t get so many people here as the nearest city to here, Boise, is a 2+ hour drive away and that’s about it really,” said Spencer.
“We also get hit by weather systems from two sides, the south and the south-west so the snow record is pretty good.”
“We have some great groomers and loads of back-country plus a decent-sizer cat skiing area.”
‘What’s not to like?’ I thought to myself.
Oh, and the views are rather good too from the fire lookout station at the very top of the resort.
It is a 20-minute drive from my new favourite US ski town, McCall (more about McCall later) in deepest Idaho.
On the approach road you simply feel you are going deeper and deeper into remote Idaho.
This is the view from the car park on approach.
Not much to write home about, but first appearance can be misleading.
And it has a simple Day Lodge with bars, restaurants and rentals.
With lots of steps.
- Vertical drop: 585m
- Top height: 2,378M
- Terrain size: 1,920 acres
- Runs: 46
- Ability levels; Expert 30%, Intermeniate 50%, Beginner 20%
- Longest run: Temptation, 2 miles
- Average snow fall: 9m
However I rarely, if ever, judge resorts by their statistics.
Rather I judge by feel and atmosphere.
Authenticity is what I am after and Brundage Mountains has it in spades.
It makes Alta and Jackson Hole look more like Disneyland.
It began in 1961 with some simple lifts and is a local hill for the people of McCall and the surrounding areas.
“We don’t get alot of foreigners round here, but we do have season pass holders from many US states. We get a few from the UK, some Germans and a handful of Spaniards but that’s about it,” said April Whitney who does the marketing for the resort.
“I came here as a ski bum from Portland a few years back and never quite left.”
This is the ski shop – full of off piste and backcountry skis.
All too soon my day on the slopes and in the powder of Brundage Mountain was over – perhaps not my best day of the season, but certainly my best so far in North America.
Next stop, Tamarack.
Where it is snowing.
And if you want to see a few more images from Brundage Mountain…
It’s on the chiily side in Brundage Mountain in Idaho.
-26c first thing in the morning.
Forunately there is no wind so windchill is not an issue (except on the chairlifts that sadly don’t have any covers).
So, how am I keeping warm?
With plenty of layers:
On test today is a revolutionary pair of skis – the Elan Ribsticks.
When the ski technician told me not to forget there was a left and a right ski I thought he was joking.
They held an edge well on the groomers:
And were fabulous in the powder as you may have seen in the videos above.
But sadly they couldn’t guaranteed I remained upright at all times
Here is Part One of the blog from James as the airline loses his skis but he still manages to put some turns in at Bogus Basin and he takes an historical look at Boise.
Now I have promised several times to tell you a little more about the town I’ve been staying in the last three night to access the ski resorts of Brundage Mountain and Tamarack.
McCall – population 3,200.
The pioneer Tom McCall arrived by the shores of Payette Lake in 1891.
He loved the place and saw its potential so he bought a homestead of 160 acres and in 1904 built the Hotel McCall .
It is where I’m staying.
It burnt to the ground in 1937.
But re-built in a staggering 57-days.
McCall is a genuine American small-town.
And a genuine American ski town.
If you stop by the side of the road looking like you want to cross then the cars stop.
But it is probably best not put it to the test with some vehicles that pass though.
The bars, restaurants and shops have a slower place of life.
Top tip: for beer and food head to the Salmon River Brewery next to the Hotel McCall.
McCall – probably the best ski town you have never heard of.
And as we left town we noticed it had a unique exhibition taking place:
See more about it in this related story on PlanetSKI
Next stop the ski resort of Tamarack, a 20-minute drive from the ski town of McCall where we’re staying.
Tamarack has a chequered history – opened in 2004 it closed in 2009 as the money run out.
It’s half-built with much building work pulled and prefab buildings aplenty- but more of that later.
First the skiing.
On the groomers:
In the powder:
Like many North American ski resorts the piste map doesn’t look much with just two main lifts and a handful of runs off them.
But look closer and it’s another story.
We simply spent all day lapping the Summit Express and doing different routes pretty much everytime.
The snow fell steadily throughout the day with the conditions getting better and better.
The slopes in North America are completely different from Europe.
There aren’t really marked trails as such – the whole of the mountain is open and you can ski pretty much anywhere you want.
The lifts tend to have dozens and dozens of different routes you can take.
And we did.
Resort height: Top of the mountain: 2,335 m
Vertical drop: 840 m
Annual snowfall: 7.6M
Terrain: Advanced 38%, Intermediate 45%, beginner 17%
So what of the resort’s, er, financial difficulties?
The resort opened in 2004 and was the first new resort to be built in the USA for 23 years.
On February 20th 2008 it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
It had been planned as a $1.5 billion destination resort with 62 ski runs, 7 chairlfits, two golf courses and a multitude of summer mountainbike trails.
In October 2008 a reciver was appointed and in February 2009 the receiver decided that the operating losses were too great.
It was closed to the public with over a month remaining in the ski season..
The final day of lift-served skiing was Wednesday, March 4, 2009.
It was boarded up for the 2009/10 ski season.
After much financial behind the scenes activity between banks, courts and the interested parties it re-opened on 20th December 2010.
65% of its ski area was opened and 100 people were hired.
The “Wildwood Express” chairlift that was installed in 2005 and last operated in 2009 was dismantled in June 2012.
The ski operation lost nearly $300,000 during the 2011-12 season.
Evidence of its problems are clearly seen.
This building at the top of the Tamarack Express was due to be a top of the range restaurant.
It remains closed and the current dining and other facilities are across the piste.
From a distance the base village looks like many other North American resorts.
Up close it’s a different story.
Pre-fab buildings are the homes to the rentals, cafes, bars and restaurants.
But despite its past problems the resort is running and has some superb slopes as we reported earlier.
And we wish it the very best of luck for the future.
And the PlanetSKI Idaho road trip presses on.
Next stop Schweitzer Mountain Resort.
The largest ski resort in Idaho and just a mere 6-hours drive north.
See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the mountains.
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