Your Own Private Idaho

Skiing, Snowboarding in Idaho, Tamarack
If you build it, they will come: The southern view from the summit of Tamarack. (courtesy, Tamarack Resort)

The next morning dawned overcast with light flurries drifting down from the gray sky. We had spent the night at the über-posh Whitetail Club, a complex of Elizabethan rooms, gorgeous dining areas, and hot tubs sitting right on Payette Lake. Chris Volk, a public relations manager out of Boise, had arranged for us to go cat skiing with a select group of clients who are hoping to be the first to buy a lot at the nation’s newest full-scale ski and summer resort, Tamarack, about 20 minutes from McCall. Among the distinguished was the developer himself, a chatty Frenchman named Jean-Pierre Boespflug, or “JP” to us Francophobes.

Tamarack has a history starting back some 20 years ago. Numerous groups tried to get the resort permitted on National Forest Service land, but all attempts failed. JP and his crew took over the project a few years ago and switched tactics, aiming to cut runs on state land adjacent to the federal swaths. The plan worked and the state legislature granted Tamarack permission to start building last spring.

Though the lifts (two quads and a surface lift) aren’t slated to start running until Christmas 2004, the runs are already cut, the spaces for the lodges, shops, and ski school cleared, and people from around the country are lining up to buy lots that cost up to $500,000. In all, Tamarack bills itself as a $1.5 billion resort. The final plan calls for 1,100 skiable acres with seven high-speed chair lifts serving 2,800 vertical feet of skiing.

Today, though, JP and a handful of others are going cat skiing to test out the new runs. After a quick briefing on the conditions (windy, cold) and how to use avalanche beacons—just in case, as the runs aren’t groomed or controlled this early in the game—we load up into a diesel snow cat outfitted with airplane-like seats and soon are motoring up toward the 7,700-foot summit. The runs are rollicking—nothing is terribly steep—but you can feel the potential the resort will have: fantastic views (when the clouds do part) of Cascade Lake, excellent aspects for catching and holding snow, and fun, long runs through trees (tamaracks as a matter fact, which lose their leaves in the winter, meaning falling into tree wells isn’t such an issue in spots).

The grand plan for the resort is to cater to folks willing to shell out the extra Franklin to be treated like royalty. People who buy lots at the resort will have access to members-only portions of the lodges, to boat rentals for the lake in summer, and have first pick of tee-times on the golf courses. For the rest of us, the resort will still be nothing short of world-class, with limited numbers of skiers—about 3,500—allowed on the mountain at any one time. The idea is to keep the place lively, but not crowded.

After a solid 10,000 vertical feet of first-track runs under our boots, we head back to the base area and JP shows us around the lots to be sold. There are bridges for skiers to cross to keep them off the road, underground parking, and a network of trails that will turn into bike paths come summer.

Though some Idahoans seem somewhat skeptical about Tamarack’s future given its stop-and-go past, the fact remains that the resort is only 120 miles north of Boise—which has non-stop flights from Seattle, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Portland, and Phoenix among others. The momentum is clearly full-speed ahead and JP himself (who has helped develop resorts in France) has spent $28 million of his own money to get the place going. And perhaps most convincing of all, the area is absolutely stunning. People on vacation like stunning. When Tamarack opens for business next winter, it will certainly be a leader among the reasons why people would come to Idaho.

We make it back to our B&B, a wood lodge called the Red Fox Ridge that’s way up in the mountains out of town. It’s been a hard, fun day of skiing powder and my legs are toast. I’m toast. Before I know it, I’m waking up the next morning. Heidi tells me I fell asleep right in the middle of a conversation.

Access and Resources
The resort is still in its infancy, and its future will largely be spelled out after the first group of potential investors bid on the surrounding lots in January and February 2004. Its proximity to McCall makes this town the best bet for lodging, unless you've already dropped a mint on one of the future resort's swank condos. Otherwise, consider one of the following:

Built in 1904, Hotel McCall (866-800-1183;; $55 to $200 a night, depending on type of room), on Payette Lake, has 36 rooms, a library, wood floors, and a communal fireplace. Some rooms come with Jacuzzis.

If you’re looking for seclusion, try the Red Fox Ridge Mountain Retreat (208-634-3055;; $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.

Published: 14 Jan 2004 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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