Your Own Private Idaho
|Winter bliss on a modest scale: The scarcely trammeled terrain at the mom-and-pop resort of Brundage. (courtesy, Idaho Tourism)|
I pick up my friend Heidi late in the evening at the Lewiston airport after wolfing down fish and chips and a pint of Snake River Pale at Hogans Pub. We turn in a little later than I had hoped; we have an early start ahead. The next morning the alarm sounds at 6 a.m., which again would be unbearable except for the fact its still snowing and were skiing again today.
The 160-mile drive south passes quickly as we roll through farmland and one-stoplight (if that) towns with names like Grangeville and White Bird. On the way we enter a canyon and pass through Riggins, billed as the whitewater capital of the state. Its easy to see why. The Salmon River that spills through the gorge here froths and gurgles with a vengeance.
I can tell Im going to like McCall before we get there. As Heidi negotiates the curvy road, I flip through the McCall Idaho Activity Guide. On the cover of the 83-page magazine is a picture of a guy dressed in a hot pink and yellow ski suit straight out of 1984, flying wildly out of control over a huge mound of snow, spread-eagle style. Its hot in an old-school kinda way. All through the issue are pictures of people nose deep in powder. I look back at my skis. I picture them glowing brighter and brighter as we draw closer, mile by mile, to the mountains, like twin talismans reaching their full potential.
Today we plan to ski at a mom-and-pop hill called Brundage, just outside McCall. When we arrive, we instantly see the mountain is a favorite among locals and familieskids wobbling in helmets and snowboard boots nearly outnumber the adults. Theres plenty of room for everybody, even on this hectic day. The mountain has about 1,800 vertical feet of skiing over 1,300 acres of terrain, yet its modest in every sense. There are no big condos here, no ski shops selling fur hats, no big fancy hotel with valet parking. The Rabbit Hole upstairs serves microwaveable fare and Snickers bars. No one seems to mind the lack of froufrou. Maybe because everyone who comes here does so to ski.
Mary Naylor, Brundages public relations chief, meets us down by the ticket counter, and before long, shes taking us to her favorite stashes along the mountain atop a new set of fat alpine skis. Shes picked those out of her quiver for a good reason: Theres a good foot of fresh on the runs. We do a few easy slopes and gradually pick up the pace to bop through the trees amid untracked lines. This is where Brundage really soars. The tree runs here are exceptional, with perfectly spaced pines making for excellent glades.
Mary has to get back to work after a few hours, so Heidi and I head out on our own. Its still snowing. To date the mountain has more than 14 feet of cumulative snowfall, well on its way to an average of 25 feet a year.
During a moment's respite on the lift, I realize its been four days since Ive seen the sun shine. But after hitting the slopes and getting a few face shots through the trees, I really dont care if I have to wait until June.
Access and Resources
Where to Stay:
McCall is a quintessential mountain town, with the requisite pubs, ski shops, hotels, and B&Bs. If opulence is your style, head to the Whitetail Club (800-657-6464; www.whitetailclub.com; $145 to $700 a night, depending on type of room and season), a sprawling complex of Elizabethan-style rooms with plush robes in the closet, mineral water on the night stands, gnarled wood banisters, and fantastic views out onto Payette Lake.
Built in 1904, Hotel McCall (866-800-1183; www.mccall-idchamber.org/members/hotelmccall/; $55 to $200 a night, depending on type of room), also on Payette Lake, has 36 rooms, a library, wood floors, and a communal fireplace. Some rooms come with Jacuzzis.
If youre looking for seclusion, try the Red Fox Ridge Mountain Retreat (208-634-3055; www.redfoxridgeretreat.com; $105 a night for doubles). Located about a half an hour out of McCall up a series of labyrinthine rural roads, the B&B has just one spacious room downstairs in an airy lodge with stunning views over the Salmon and Seven Devils mountain ranges. Owners Mike and Debbi Murphy are fervent outdoor enthusiasts and can take you cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, as well as offer yoga classes and a massage.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication