What exactly is a Tamarack and why name a ski resort after one? That’s the first thing I thought when learning about Tamarack Ski Resort. With a little research, the Tamarack is quite interesting in that it looks like a gnarly evergreen-like tree with needles and cones but then drops its needles in the winter! Majestic, tough and beautiful is the only way to describe them. A fitting name for a resort that’s coming out of a rough patch yet stronger than ever.
Zipping out of McCall on US-55, we head straight towards a little town named Donnelly. Surveying the scenery, the road South follows a large valley dotted with homes and ranches. On either side, huge mountains rise from the valley floor thousands of feet into the air. After a short 20 minute drive, we arrive in the next town. First up is breakfast at the Flight of Fancy café.
Flight of Fancy – Like being home again
The exterior of Flight of Fancy is quirky yet homey. Even among the wintry landscape you can tell the owner has a green thumb with all the bushes, trees, and flower pots filling the front yard. Swinging the door open, the aroma of fresh baked muffins, cookies, and a plethora of other tantalizing treats takes over our senses. Signs decorate the interior giving you guidance on what you should and shouldn’t do if you actually have any manners. We glance over the mouthwatering items in the display case as we approach the counter. Croissants, muffins, and all sorts of baked goods filled to the brim. We finally focus on the task at hand and order breakfast. The quiche sounds good, but another item on the menu really catches our “fancy.” Baked Oatmeal?!
Baked Oatmeal – The greatest oatmeal you’ll EVER have
Susan Dorris, the owner, is manning the register and gives us the scoop on the oatmeal. It’s not your typical oats in a bowl. First, it NEVER touches the stove. Second, the oats soak for an entire day. And finally, the oats bake in the oven! This sounds so interesting we had to try it. It’s hearty, crunchy, AND healthy. The texture is more like crunchy cereal meets rice (if that makes sense) and the flavors are amazing. A DEFINITE must try even if you’re not an oatmeal person. If you just can’t get past the “oatmeal” moniker, then the Quiche is another great option. It’s juicy packed with spinach, artichoke, onions & TONS of cheese but with enough egg to hold all the wonderful ingredients together.
Huckleberry Almond Croissant & a Cappuccino
With a sweet tooth, I couldn’t pass up having one of the pastries but the question was what? Susan goes through all the items and the one that calls out to me is the Huckleberry Almond Croissant. Crunchy and flaky outside yet jam packed with almond paste inside, you taste how fresh the ingredients are! I knew I was in for a treat with the cappuccino when Susan asked us if I wanted it “Dry or wet?” I like my cappuccino wet not to be confused with my love for dry snow. Definitely the best cappuccino of the trip. With our stomachs full, we said farewell and thanked her for the amazing meal.
Bottom of the valley means easy driving
Compared to Brundage’s mountain pass, Tamarack Ski Resort’s village is located right in the valley for an easy drive to the base. Though it is a bit further South on the map, it takes almost the same amount of time to get there as it would to get to Brundage from McCall.
Tamarack Ski Resort – My kind of ghost town
Veering through the winding village roads, we see buildings under construction with plastic billowing in the wind. Next to them are large cranes hovering over the construction site but there is no movement. Pulling into the parking lot around 10 am, we count 18 cars in the lot… Yup, you read that right – EIGHTEEN! I don’t care which resort you go to, that is unheard of!
Grabbing our lift tickets from the main lodge, we hop onto the lift. The sun breaks out from behind the clouds for just a few moments. Giving us a glimpse of the large Lake Cascade below Tamarack Ski Resort, the views are breathtaking. As we continue to climb towards the top, we drool over the “powderoy” below our feet and the massive pow stashes everywhere. We’re as giddy as school kids. Flying off the lift, we glide down the short slope and head straight for the Summit chair.
Untracked powder @ 10:30 am? Yes please!
Scoping out the terrain from above, we are shocked at what we see. We clean our goggles just to make sure we aren’t dreaming. The ENTIRE bowl below the lift was untracked with only a few turns dotting the landscape. It was nearly 10:30 am and STILL untracked pow?!?! WHAT??? We had to ask if this was normal. Apparently we’re the lucky few benefiting from a recent storm and a three-day wind-hold. Sweet! Quickly strapping in, we hop straight into the bowl taking huge swooping turns in the 6″ of fresh windblown pow. It was heaven on earth like no place I’ve visited before. This is an untouched bowl, the kind you only find in the backcountry after a hard skinning trek yet we were in a resort… Alone!
Lunch ‘n Learn on the amazing Tam
It’s cool to experience a resort yourself, but having a local guide helps you get an idea of just how amazing a place really is. We made plans to meet up with Brad Larsen, GM of Tamarack Ski Resort. We knew the snow was great, but where is the secret fun terrain? The stuff that is a bit steeper? Brad had just the place in mind for us to try out. Ascending the mountain, we talk a little bit about the past of Tamarack Ski Resort but focus more on the present and where it’s headed.
Like a Phoenix, Tamarack Ski Resort is coming from the ashes and taking flight
Tamarack Ski Resort is only a few years out of bankruptcy and is now owned by the Owner’s Association. There are remnants of that past peppered across the landscape with partially constructed buildings and temporary structures still in use but you can tell they have begun to make a BIG turnaround. Having the Owner’s Association running the ski resort is a blessing and will help shape the future in a good way as they personally care about this special place. Skier visits have nearly doubled since last season with lots of room for growth. From a terrain perspective, there are big plans on the horizon to increase gladed terrain available inbounds. Pointing ahead, Brad calls out the latest glades cut and the proposed new ones.
Avalanche Control carved the Bent Tree Glades
Exiting the Summit chair station, we head skier’s left from the top of summit. Traversing across the ridge, Brad points out the Bent Tree Glades named because the vegetation was bent from years of avy control. From the top of the cornice, we can see massive chunks of snow, the size of a VW Beetle, broken off from the explosives used to keep the mountain safe. It really makes you appreciate the dangerous work ski patrol does for our safety inbounds.
2 FEET of Blower Pow calls for Hootin’ and Hollerin’
Sliding merely 100 yards past the avalanche debris, the slope is untouched. Brad offers me the first run and I oblige. The snow is perfect. Even though they reported 4″ it rode like 2′ of blower. Taking massive arcing turns across the open slope, the snow billowed around me, making me grin ear-to-ear. I hoot and holler the whole way down! Looking up, I see Brad drop in showing he knows the terrain well. As we re-group at the top of the slope he says, “If you think that’s cool, you’ll LOVE the next zone I’m gonna show you.”
The La Bamba Cliffs are the best 8 turns of the season
As we rode over to the Willowy Glades, Brad calls out the opening to the first chute. Again, he gave me first dibs. If the first section was amazing, this was beyond EPIC! Talk about perfectly angled terrain, complex terrain, that is actually inbounds. Staring in awe at the lines below, Brad points out a few more lines across the La Bamba Cliffs area. Best turns of the season, hands down – no questions!
Riding back up the lift, we learn another benefit for being out here at Tamarack Ski Resort. Running the resort, not only do you design the runs, you can glade them yourself! Over the past Summer, Brad had the opportunity to get into the trees and cut the glades himself. How many people can say not only did I design that run, I cut it with a chainsaw too! We lapped this section a few more times milking every line possible. Boy, was it amazing! The only thing left was to bask in the afterglow. After such an amazing day, it was time to treat ourselves to something special. Beer? Not yet. Cake. Perhaps. In fact, Stacey Cakes to be specific!
Stacey Cakes, another reason to visit McCall
As we talked about in our first McCall post, Stacey Cakes must be an itinerary destination if you love desserts. Immediately stepping into the bakery, it brings a sense of pure bliss. Sitting down with Stacey, she tells us the story of moving with her husband from Jackson Hole to McCall. Culinary delights run in this family as her husband is the head chef at Rupert’s while Stacey holds the confectionery torch in town. A trained pastry chef, her creations are at another level. Our first encounter is the Salted Caramel Cheesecake. The graham cracker crust is thick, buttery and crunchy, cupping the cooled (not cold) cheesecake. The cheesecake itself has the consistency of caramelized butter but the flavor of a freshly made caramel square that melts in your mouth.
Ginger Bread Snaps that are fan-bloody-tastic
No matter what you taste at Stacey Cakes, be sure to buy a bag of Gingerbread Snaps to take home. This may possibly be the greatest cookie in the world or maybe the universe. Covered in crystalline sugar, they are perfectly soft like fresh out-of-the-oven cookies and have a kick of ginger and spice that is just the right amount to get your attention. Simply AMAZING!
Where Local’s go for a romantic meal
After such a long day, it was nice that our last dinner was inside the Hotel McCall, called Rupert’s. Every local we spoke to agrees that Rupert’s is the spot they go for a special meal. Only in Idaho would you find the best restaurants connected to hotels. This was a recurring theme as we traveled across Idaho. Local Idaho hotels have great food!
Down a long hallway adorned with historical photos, we enter the dining room of Rupert’s. To our surprise, every table is filled and it’s a Thursday night. We’re glad that we listened to the local’s advice and made reservations.
Local Freshies® tip: Rupert’s is a VERY popular restaurant, even in the small town of McCall, so be sure to make a reservation no matter which day you go.
Seated by our host, we look over the menu and know this will be a hard decision. Fortunately, Chris our server, also the restaurant manager, is our guide for the evening and about to take us on a food adventure! We couldn’t have had a better setup! With so many choices, what should we get? He immediately points to the Venison Meatballs. The menu changes 3 to 4 times a year but the one appetizer that is NEVER removed is the Grilled Local Venison Meatballs. Sure, why not! They arrive on a long rectangular plate resting upon a bed of red cabbage and we dive right in. They’re crispy on the outside and juicy in the middle with spices that lean towards Southeast Asian influences. They aren’t gamey at all but you can tell the meat is something special and not your typical meatball. Simply put… Sooo good!
Exceptional Customer Service
While waiting for our next course, we see Chris interacting with all the patrons and brings out food for a couple holding an adorable infant. The moment they take a bite, the baby starts to cry. In one smooth motion, Chris scoops the baby into his arms, relieving the parents, and bounces him around the dining room while they enjoy their meal. We are mesmerized at the level of customer service. It reminded us that we’re in a small town where everyone prides themselves on knowing and caring about others.
Up next… Beet Salad and a Ginger Squash Soup
Arriving next is our soup and salad. The Beet salad is refreshing and mixes well with the citrus dressing and feta atop. The shining star though is the soup. A creamy concoction that reminds me of the texture of a lobster bisque. With each spoonful, the spiciness builds upon itself hinting the ginger notes with some tanginess. Again, incredibly tasty.
You are what you eat
The old adage “You are what you eat” has rung in my ears for years. Of course, it’s talking about eating healthy, but at the same time my mind always considers what animals actually look like. Typical farm animals such as cows, chickens & pigs don’t appear intellectually superior and are usually fattened up. On the flip side, wild native species such as elk, deer, and bison are muscular, picky eaters and smart enough to make it on their own. Any time I see game meat on a menu, I gravitate right to it and end up picking it as these thoughts run through my mind. Game Meat Bolognese is on the menu tonight and definitely something I would enjoy.
After the first taste filled with elk sausage and pasta, I knew I picked right. The elk sausage had the firmness of an andouille and it paired well with the ground meat sauce and al dente pasta. There was just enough sauce to add flavor but not too much to blow out your palette. It’s like the Italians went Elk hunting and whipped up the dish. One word – Amazing. On the other side of the spectrum was our Thai dish.
It’s Thursday Thai night
OK, if the Game Meat Bolognese is amazing, then the Thai dish is out of this world! The first bite made me understand why Rupert’s is packed on a Thursday night. I can’t even begin to explain all the spices and complexities of flavors in the entrée we ordered. All I can tell you is that it had the perfect amount of spiciness to truly enjoy it without making it overkill.
Local Freshies® Tip: If you’re in McCall on a Thursday night be sure to go to Rupert’s for Thai Night. You won’t be disappointed. If Thai food isn’t really your thing, it will be after eating here!
Always room for dessert… And perhaps a little Port
Stuffed to the gills, Chris asks us if we have room for dessert. Initially we say no but then he starts reciting the dessert menu. Our ears perk up. English Sticky Toffee Pudding?!? What is that? Chris’ face lights up. There’s a list of people he actually calls each winter once this dessert is back on the menu. With a following like that, you only live once, right? Sure, let’s try it.
Chris then asks if there’s anything we’d like to drink? “How about a Port from 1967?” he says. That has to be like $100 a sip?! Nope. Only $25 a glass. To drink something that’s 50 years old is just too hard to pass up. He brings out the dessert, the bottle of port, and a glass. The bottle is unique that the logo and year are hand painted accentuating the age of the bottle. Pouring a glass, he leaves us to enjoy our dessert.
I grab the first spoonful of English pudding soaked in toffee, drizzled in caramel and a side scoop of fresh vanilla ice cream. The cold ice cream pairs perfect with the hot bread pudding. It’s decadent. Perfect for our last dinner in McCall. Taking a sip of the Port alongside the dessert, my mind is transported to a simpler time. I imagine all the things that were around in 1967. Muscle cars and Frank Sinatra are first to my mind. It was also around this time that my father had traveled to McCall and skied at Brundage mountain himself. The town may have changed a bit over the years but it hasn’t lost its soul.