Read all about Steve's outdoor trips in Idaho, including canoeing, whitewater boating, mountain biking, hiking, trail running and skiing.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Find plenty of virgin powder, solitude at Tamarack Resort in Central Idaho near McCall
The only ski tracks I saw that day were my own ...
I went back to Tamarack Resort for the first time in a couple of years on Saturday. It was a busy day ... the upper parking lot was full, and it was hard to find an open table in the Canoe Grill during lunchtime. But even so, it was amazingly easy to find big fields of virgin powder in all of my favorite off-trail locations. In my view, that's a big reason to go there.
As most people know by now, the Tamarack homeowners banded together to raise enough funds for the bankrupt resort to operate this winter. Tamarack is open Thursday - Sunday and most holidays. Operating hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Because Tamarack is closed Monday-Wednesday each week, that means there is great potential for any new snow to pile up until skiers and snowboarders show up on Thursday to shred it. And generally, there aren't enough skiers around on Thursday to actually consume the powder, compared to how quickly powder gets shredded at Bogus Basin or Brundage (usually in the space of 1.5 hours it's carved up).
So see what you can do about arranging a trip to Tamarack on a Thursday and enjoy the solitude and big fields of unskied powder. Yeah, baby!
Tamarack also offers discounts as an incentive for people to visit. Every Thursday and Friday, you can buy one lift ticket at the regular price, and get a second one for your family or friend at half price. Full price for a lift ticket is $46/day, so your second ticket would cost $23. Tamarack's lift price compares to $48 at Bogus and $55 at Brundage.
The only downsides are that the Wildwood ski lift is closed, so you can't ski that chair unless you brought your climbing skins, and Tamarack is not providing day care services for young children.
If you like skiing powder and off-trail stuff, be sure to check out the off-trail skiing on the south and north sides of the Tamarack Summit. Something I learned while working at Tamarack is that some of the best skiing is out of bounds. There are several open glades to the south of the resort and Lone Tree Mountain, a 20-minute walk to the south, offers a ton powder skiing on the northeast side of the mountain. Here's a video from that area.
Remember: You'll need climbing skins, an avalanche beacon, avalanche probe and shovel if you venture into the backcountry.
To the north of the Tamarack boundary off the summit, you can drop into Wildwood Bowl, a nice and steep powder shot that leads into the old Wildwood chairlift area. Count on some time hoofing back to the resort area from there, but on a good powder day, it might be worth it.
Another benefit of skiing at Tamarack is they have the Summit Chair, which services the top 1,000 vertical feet of the mountain. That means if temperatures are warm in the lower part of the mountain, or if it's raining down low -- as it was everywhere last weekend -- it's going to be snowing up high. So you can ski the upper third of the mountain and stay out of the rain. That can be a big plus.
The other thing I enjoy about Tamarack is the long top-to-bottom runs with 2,800 feet of vertical drop. You can take off from the top and ski Bliss or Serenity top to bottom. I especially enjoy skiing on Bliss, which was cut fairly narrow in width, and it has clumps of trees that you can slalom around on your way down the hill. Again, because of the lack of crowds, you can really cruise those runs at high speed and see if you can make it top to bottom non-stop.
While you're in the 'hood, consider visiting Gold Fork Hot Springs near Donnelly to soothe your ski legs, and check out one of several cool eateries in McCall, such as the Salmon River Brewery, the new Sushi Bar, or Wraptor, a healthy lunch alternative with soups, wraps and great cookies. West Mountain Gear & Grind is a great place to stop for coffee in Donnelly, and they have recreation gear and tune-up equipment in the shop as well.