By Steve Stuebner, Forecaster Posted 1 year ago February 7, 2022
Insider’s Guide to Skiing Tamarack Resort, Idaho
The following guide was sponsored in partnership with our friends at Tamarack Resort.
Nestled in the Northern Rockies two hours north of Boise, Tamarack Resort is a relatively undiscovered ski area with a big mountain feel and a huge heart.
With a respectable 2,800 vertical feet of continuous descent, Tamarack has the second-longest runs in the state of Idaho next to Sun Valley, lots of tree and glade skiing, three terrain parks, and plenty of elbow room mid-week for a quiet, “Private Idaho” skiing/riding feeling.
On snowy days, I love searching for hidden powder treasures at Tamarack, skiing the Tamarack Grove, Wildwood Bowl, Lone Tree Mountain, and the new burn in-bounds. On bluebird groomer days, zooming top-to-bottom on finely manicured slopes sure gets my adrenaline going. But before I drop-in, I’ve got to take a moment to soak in the gorgeous mountain views all around me.
Even if you’re a new visitor, the “Tam Fam” will make you feel welcome from the moment you step onto the snow in the Tamarack Village. If you’re looking to discover a hidden jewel that has friendly people, short lift lines, and oodles of terrain to explore, tag along with me to learn more about Tamarack Resort.
Tamarack Resort offers 1,100 acres of skiable terrain, accessed by five lifts and 50 named ski trails. The mountain rises from a base elevation of 4,900 feet to a summit elevation of 7,700 feet.
Our friends at ZRankings list Tamarack’s True Annual Snowfall at 275 inches. 17% of the mountain is rated novice terrain, 45% intermediate, and 38% as advanced terrain.
Situated on the east slope of West Mountain, Tamarack’s ski trails generally face to the east, while the Wildwood section of the mountain faces northeast and some runs to the south of the Summit lift face to the southeast.
Hours of operation are 9 AM to 4 PM, 7 days a week.
GETTING TO TAMARACK RESORT
Catch a flight to the Boise airport, rent an SUV and drive 95 miles north to Tamarack Resort. Seven airlines provide direct flights to Boise from 29 U.S. cities nationwide.
Once in Boise, rent a car on the ground level of the Boise airport, adjacent to the baggage claim area. Take Idaho State Highway 55 north for 100 miles until you reach the town of Donnelly, Idaho. Turn left onto West Roseberry Road for 3.8 miles and turn left on West Mountain Road. From there you will travel 3.2 miles and arrive at the entrance to Tamarack Resort.
The upper parking lot fills quickly on busy days, especially weekends and holiday weekends. There is a lower parking lot with a free shuttle service to bring you to the Tamarack Village, where you can buy daily lift tickets and multi-day lift passes.
TAMARACK SNOW & WEATHER
Located on the east flank of West Mountain, a lengthy whale-like mountain range that runs north-south in Long Valley, Tamarack Resort is situated in a productive storm track in the West Central Mountains general region. Storms approaching from the Pacific Coast often track directly across Washington or Oregon into the West Central Mountains, dropping peak or above-average amounts of snow.
A “Private Idaho” moment at Tamarack on a powder day (courtesy of Tamarack Resort).
Arctic weather systems moving into the Pacific Northwest from the Gulf of Alaska can be productive for Tamarack powder events, and the same is true for atmospheric river systems that move into Idaho from the South Pacific and Northern California. Those moist storm systems can be especially productive for big powder dumps.
At 4,900 feet, Tamarack’s base area is 1,000 feet lower than Brundage, Bogus Basin, and Sun Valley. During warm storms, that can cause issues with a mix of rain and snow in the lower elevations. Fortunately, Tamarack has a Summit Chair that serves the top 1,000 feet of the mountain, normally well above the snow level.
Average high temperatures in January and February at Tamarack are in the high 20s to low 30s with lows in the teens or single digits. Precipitation events are likely to occur 10 days out of each winter month. Snowfall from January through April can be significant. The ski area typically closes in mid-April when Boise Valley skiers/riders begin to focus on golf, tennis, biking, and warmer-weather activities.
Check out the Idaho Daily Snow to receive the latest snow forecast and conditions information.
It’s 2 degrees F at my cabin in McCall on a quiet Friday morning before thousands of people arrive for the kickoff of the super fun McCall Winter Carnival on Jan. 28. I leave McCall early at 8 AM to ensure that I can get to Tamarack Resort in time to snag a primo parking spot in the upper lot next to the Village, the hub for all skier services. On busy days, those parking spots are snapped up quickly.
It's a 15 to 20-minute drive to Donnelly, a tiny little town (population 72) that’s dubbed the “Gateway to Adventure.” A thin-but-persistent layer of ground fog enshrouds Long Valley, trapping cold temperatures near the earth’s surface. The temperature gauge in my SUV drops to 15 below F. However, I can see the sun shining on Tamarack Resort above the fog layer, and I know the high temps will hit the mid-20s by the afternoon. I smile, knowing it’s going to be a beautiful day on the mountain.
First, I’m meeting up with Tamarack’s new Marketing and Communications Director, Matt Gebo, and Tamarack CEO Scott Turlington to talk about all of the recent and new improvements planned at Tamarack. And then I’ve got a ski date with former Tamarack, Deer Valley, and Solitude Ski School Director Tim Wolfgram and Mike Erlebach, a long-time Tamarack ski patrolman, ski instructor, and guide.
Wolfgram, Erlebach, and I all worked together at Tamarack in the 2000s, “the start-up years.” My job was to work with the Forest Service on obtaining a snowcat skiing special use permit on national forest lands, launch a new outfitting business on the Payette River, create new hiking and biking trails, etc.
Clearwater Coffee Shop (courtesy of Steve Stuebner).
I arrive at Tamarack at 8:35 a.m. and experience almost zero traffic. I score a sweet parking spot right next to the Village courtyard and head up the stairs to Clearwater Coffee, where I’m meeting Gebo. A server greets me in a friendly way and takes my order for a mocha grande and an egg-and-sausage croissant breakfast sandwich. Friendly and helpful customer service has been a trademark at Tamarack since the beginning. It’s a friendly, welcoming culture they’re creating here. You come to visit Tamarack, you become part of the “TamFam.”
Gebo just joined Tamarack in late 2021 after more than 25 years in the ski industry, starting in New England, then Mammoth in California, Park City in Utah, and now Tamarack.
“There’s a vibe that’s uniquely friendly and welcoming here – like you’re part of the community,” he says. “I felt that right away. We want our guests to feel the same way.”
Locally, Tamarack competes against Bogus Basin in Boise, Brundage Mountain in McCall, and Sun Valley on the ski side of the business. One way to provide a different experience is to focus on customer service. Beyond friendly employees, the Tamarack Ambassador program underlines that service with people in red ski jackets positioned around the Village, Mid-Mountain, and Tam Summit to chat with guests and help answer questions.
Tamarack is welcoming in other ways as well. They launched the Sky Pass program last summer that provides free four-season passes to local Valley County and New Meadows kids aged 5-18.
“They can start in kindergarten and have a free pass until high school graduation,” Turlington says. “We’ve got 800 kids participating in the program so far. It’s one way we’re trying to keep it local.”
A group of local kids pose for a pic before descending off the Tamarack Summit (courtesy of Steve Stuebner).
Tamarack also recently announced a season pass exchange program in which they’ll give skiers/riders a free day ticket if they have a season pass at any other Idaho ski resort. Tamarack participates in the Indy Pass program as well.
“We just want people to come and have fun. Once they’re experienced Tamarack, we know they’ll come back,” Gebo says.
Tamarack went through a difficult, prolonged bankruptcy looking for a new buyer until MMG Equity Partners purchased the resort in November 2018 with two other partners. Construction on some buildings was started pre-bankruptcy, and the work was halted for years.
“We know there’s this perception out there with some people that Tamarack is still a Tyvek village,” Gebo says. “We want them to come visit and see how far we’ve come from those days.”
In my way of thinking, Tamarack has all the bases covered for people to have heaps of fun skiing/riding here.
After visiting with Gebo and Turlington, I grab a quick lunch with Tim Wolfgram at the Triple B Diner in the Rendezvous food court. I order a yummy mushroom-Swiss burger with fries and a soft drink to tank up for the afternoon.
The Triple B Diner has a wide range of breakfast and lunch items, and then when you add custom-made soup, sandwiches and pizza at Crusty’s, Mexican fare at El Pueblo Taqueria, and rice and noodle bowls at Summit Bowls, skiers and riders have a wide range of food options to sample at lunchtime.
The Triple B Diner is one of four dining options in the Rendezvous Food Hall (courtesy of Steve Stuebner).
Wolfgram and I link up with Mike Erlebach, and we head out to rip some groomers and dabble a little off-trail. A high-pressure weather system has been dominant over Idaho and the Northern Rockies, deflecting storm tracks elsewhere. But the quantity of new snow in December and early January was off the charts. Tamarack’s snow gauge has recorded 195 inches of snow so far this season. They’re reporting a base of 60 inches at mid-mountain and 65 inches at the summit.
We take the Tam Express lift to mid-mountain and the Summit Express to the top. The top of Tamarack is post-card blue. Off to the west, 8,126-foot Council Mountain looms larger than life. To the east and south, it’s an impressive wide-open view of Long Valley and Lake Cascade for more than 50 miles in either direction.
Tim Wolfgram, right, and Mike Erlebach carve turns on the Wildwood ski slope (courtesy of Steve Stuebner).
From the Tam Summit, Erleback leads the way to Serenity, a blue-groomed run that arcs back to the Summit Chair. “Erle” takes a far-left line next to the trees and rips perfect turns with Wolfgram right on his tail. Both of these guys are senior top-level PSIA-certified instructors, and they carve perfect turns. It’s fun to watch as I tail close behind, thinking a little more about being on top of my edges than normal.
We had over toward the Wildwood Express quad and drop into Enigma. The finely groomed boulevard in the trees takes a steep drop into a bowl below, leading to fast speeds and turns. Man, it’s fun to let it rip on those wide-open groomers. Next, we dropped over to “Tamarack,” a black diamond slope that veers to skiers’ left off the top of the Wildwood lift and takes you on a nice cruise adjacent to tall Tamarack trees. The slope is also interlaced with islands of trees. I like that design feature.
Wolfgram, Erle, and I have all tucked into the tammies on powder days. The tall trees have fewer limbs hanging off the trunk, and they lose their needles in the winter, making it easier to see the best powder lines coming ahead.
Glade skiing in the Tamarack grove (courtesy of Tamarack Resort)
There’s 11 inches of fresh snow overnight, and it’s a midweek January day. The wind is fricking howling 25-35 mph and tiny snowflakes hit our faces like sharp pins as we get off the Tam Summit lift. Nearly white-out conditions. But we know the way, and we skate into the ripping headwind on a snowed-in cat-track heading north out to some black-diamond runs that dive off a giant cornice headwall. Thank god, Tamarack has rope lines with red ribbons to follow on days like this.
Our destination, roughly, is a ski run called “Adrenaline.” My friends Steve Jones, Tyler Bjork, and I skate to a spot where we think we’re on the precipice of the cornice, and I shout, “Let’s drop in! Jonesy, you go first!!”
He launches off the cornice (8-10 foot, steep vertical snow wall) and lands in a soft pillow of deep powder below … all we can see is a big poof of snow rising with the wind, and then we hear him howling with glee 50 yards below as he shreds Adrenaline amid tree glades below. Tyler and I find our own personal lines and drop-in, not really knowing exactly how or where we’re going to land, and then poof! I can see just enough and I’m still on my feet! Yeah, man!
We farmed that slope over and over again as no one else was skiing there on that mid-week January day. Boy, we were grinning ear-to-ear with wind-blasted beet-red faces and giggling like teenage schoolgirls after that day of skiing.
Skiing fresh powder at Tamarack (courtesy of Tamarack Resort)
Wildwood Bowl, situated above the Wildwood lift, is another great place to catch some untracked snow just out-of-bounds from the ski area. The bottom of the bowl feeds directly into the Tamarack in-bounds slope, so with a little extra skating off the top, you can vector out of bounds for some powder licks and then vector back in-bounds to catch the lift below. (avalanche beacon and basic backcountry rescue gear required for safety reasons).
Truth be told, the backcountry terrain to the north and south of Tamarack’s main resort area adds quite a bit of diversity and adrenaline to the whole skiing/riding experience. Turlington points out that Tamarack doesn’t encourage such activity, but they have an open gate policy on the bookends of the resort, adjacent to national forest boundaries.
Lone Tree Mountain, located to the south of the existing ski area boundary, will be at the center of Tamarack’s future expansion plans (courtesy of Steve Stuebner).
But Tamarack is interested in expanding mainly to the south on Lone Tree Mountain and to the north in selected locations to triple its ski terrain by up to 3,000 acres. I used to call Lone Tree “my office” when I’d go over there frequently to explore, GPS my backcountry tracks, and scout snow roads for snowcat access as a Tamarack employee in the 2000s.
It takes only 30-45 minutes to cruise over to Lone Tree on skins from the Tam summit. Hardly anyone goes over there today. The fall-line off the top is perfect, dropping down on a single black diamond descent into a large bowl of neatly spaced aspen and fire trees. All of the terrain flows back to the Tamarack base area.
I totally fell in love with the Lone Tree area and enjoyed guiding a few cat trips over there before the Great Recession and Tam bankruptcy ended the cat skiing program, at least for now.
Tamarack’s expansion plans begin with building a gondola from the base area to the top of Lone Tree to open up another 2,000 skiable acres of terrain for all skiers/riders to enjoy in the future. Four other chairlifts are incorporated into the expansion package, mainly between the Tam Summit and Lone Tree Summit (elevation: 7,835). On the north side of the resort, Tamarack would extend the Wildwood lift to the top of a rocky bluff on Forest Service land to improve access to in-bounds terrain and provide better access to hike-to terrain such as Wildwood Bowl and some double-diamond steep chutes.
Turlington says the expansion plan “is a major priority” and he anticipates it will be a “game-changer” for the resort. He expects it will take a year to 18 months to get an environmental impact statement approved by the Forest Service. Also in the near term, Tam plans to build a marina with 100 boat slips and a fuel station at the waterfront on Lake Cascade; restore the Robert Trent Jones II 18-hole golf course, and build a number of employee housing units next to the lake and the golf course.
“I like the four-season experience that we’re working on here,” Gebo says. “I’ve never been anywhere where you have a big lake, mountain, and meadow, all in one package.”
Erlebach, left, and Wolfgram carve turns side by side on Vista (courtesy of Steve Stuebner).
Back to the in-bounds experience, on clear days like this, you can log a ton of top-to-bottom runs or quicker Summit chair laps on perfectly manicured groomed runs. Some hard-cores like to log their vertical and see how high they can go. You can really test your quads doing 2,800-foot non-stop, top-to-bottom runs on Bliss, Serenity, and Showtime – all ski trails that go top to bottom.
Freestyle skier catches big air in the No Business Terrain Park (courtesy of Tamarack Resort).
Tamarack’s terrain parks are impressive and popular with snowboarders and twin-tip skiers. Tamarack has always had some of the best and most challenging terrain parks in the state. Back in the 2000s, they built a giant halfpipe with 18-foot walls and hosted a number of national freestyle events. The big pipe is no longer a feature, but the expert-level No Business Terrain Park has a number of big jumps and rails for skiers/riders to try out off the lower Showtime run.
In the winter of 2021-2022, Tamarack is hosting four terrain park events. The first, the West Mountain Showdown rail event was held in early January, and then two USASA competitions, one on Feb. 5-6, and another on March 5-6, and the “Grom” games in the final Saturday in March, for younger aspiring skiers and riders.
Boise and McCall resident Sam Sandmire remembers how pivotal Tamarack’s superpipe and terrain park were for her son, Trevor, who was looking for a quality place to train and up his game as a freestyle skier.
“Tamarack was the only ski resort in Southwest Idaho that had a decent terrain park, and the only one that allowed inverted aerial maneuvers,” she says.
“The Tamarack terrain park allowed Trevor to learn all kinds of new skills including big air maneuvers off the big ramp jumps on Showtime. That put him in a position to compete at a national level.”
OFF-PISTE TAMARACK ACTIVITIES AND EVENTS
Tamarack has more than 20 kilometers of groomed Nordic skiing trails that are open to skate skiing, xc skiing, and snow biking. Dogs are allowed on the Nordic trails. The Nordic trails cruise around the golf course on tree-lined meadows in a wide-open, scenic setting.
Ice sculpture depicts a train pulling freshly cut pine logs for the Winter Carnival at Tamarack Resort (courtesy of Steve Stuebner).
During the week, Tamarack hosts a number of standing events in the Village. Recurring events include the Après Ski Music Series at the Rendezvous Food Hall on Saturdays from 3-6 PM, Winter Trivia Night on Tuesdays from 5:30-7:30 PM at the Rendezvous Food Hall, and the Crusty’s Concert Series on Thursdays from 3-6 PM. See the Tamarack events page for more information.
Tamarack has 300 beds in their rental pool of ski-in, ski-out lodging at the base area.
Contact Tamarack Lodging for pricing and availability. There also are many independently owned homes, condo units, chalets, and cottages at Tamarack, which are available as short-term rentals through Airbnb or VRBO.
Tamarack recognizes the need to increase their rental pool of rooms available, Gebo says. An announcement about a partnership with a major national brand hotel is in the works and will be announced soon.
Skiers also can look for hotel lodging in McCall or short-term rentals via Airbnb or VRBO in Donnelly or McCall. The McCall Chamber of Commerce has lodging options as does InIdaho.com, a McCall-based property rental business.
Besides the four eateries mentioned in the Rendezvous Food Hall, an upscale restaurant called The Reserve is located in the Village Plaza, just steps from the ski lift. The Reserve serves fine Northwest cuisine and a full slate of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. The Seven Devils Taphouse, designed to be the go-to spot for après ski food and drink, will be opening in December 2022.
In Donnelly, the most upscale dining spot is an Italian restaurant called Ragazza Di Bufalo. It’s a place where locals go to splurge and for special occasions. Growlers and Cougar Dave’s are good spots for a burger and beer. The Flight of Fancy is the best local coffee shop in town, owned by Donnelly Mayor Susan Dorris. And there’s a new Asian cuisine restaurant moving into Donnelly this spring. The Stinker Sinclair service station in Donnelly serves as a mini-grocery store of sorts for the small town, with a full selection of grab-and-go items, beer, and wine.
Visitors will find the most dining options in McCall, 11 miles north of Donnelly on Idaho 55. Shore Lodge has a spectacular setting next to Payette Lake and an upscale restaurant. The bar at Shore Lodge is worth visiting just for the view of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
Some of my favorite dining spots in McCall include the McCall Sushi Bar, where you must order a King Kobe Bowl with tender beef, king salmon and veggies with rice or noodles, Pueblo Lindo, a very affordable Mexican restaurant with fast and friendly service, the Yacht Club, right on the lake, Lardo’s, a local institution with great burgers and steak.
Visit TamarackIdaho.com for all lodging, event, and other ski-related information.
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This guide was sponsored in partnership with our friends at Tamarack Resort.