Yesterday’s Burgdorf Hot Springs adventure was amazing, but a ski trip isn’t a ski trip unless you actually go skiing. Today, our plan is simple. The McCall ski resort of Brundage is our destination. Making sure we get first chair, a quick bite at THE Local’s spot is the perfect idea. We asked around town to see where people snag breakfast before riding. The resounding answer was the gas station. The Gas station?!? Seriously? Always taking the locals’ tips earnestly, gas station here we come!
Your Grandma’s Gas Station
In any regular town when you go snowboarding or skiing, you’re forced to stop and get gas, go somewhere else to grab a bite to eat, and then head to another shop for a good cup of coffee. McCall isn’t that type of place. Here, you pull into the local Shell station and gas up, purchase some snacks, grab a cup of coffee, do some laundry if you need, and of course, have an amazing breakfast! Talk about efficiency. It reminded me of stories my grandmother would tell about gas stations on Route 66.
“All Aboard” the Gravy Train
In the back corner of the gas station, there sits a little counter where a sweet older lady takes our order with a smile. “So, what’s a Local favorite on the menu?” With no hesitation, she says “Ben’s gravy train is the most popular.” A breakfast burrito filled with eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage and… GRAVY? First, the hash browns aren’t the store-bought kind. They’re made from scratch and are more like home fries than hash browns. Second, the sausage gravy is what combines all the flavors together making it delicious. If that’s too much for you, then go for the Moose Toast. It’s a breakfast sandwich flanked by Texas toast with two eggs, bacon, and cheese.
While enjoying breakfast, I check out the lift schedule. With extra time this morning, we decided to check out some local ski & snowboard shops.
McCall Sports Exchange
First up is the McCall Sports Exchange. Owner Scott Jackson, originally from the Midwest, traveled to Colorado to find bigger mountains and better snow. Looking to get away from the crowds and find more summertime water access, Scott found McCall. If you’re looking for affordable outdoor gear, then this spot is a great option. From high quality, lightly used products to overstock closeout items, you can find something you need at a VERY affordable price. Also, since the area doesn’t have a dedicated snowboard shop, he’s become a Rome & High Society dealer as well. Pretty cool in a small ski town.
Home Town Sports – An Olympian’s “Home”
On our way out to the McCall ski resort of Brundage, our last stop was at Home Town Sports. Founded by former Olympian Patty Boydstun, this place is a ski shop and museum in one. Eric, Patty’s son, gives us a personalized tour of this world class shop. While highlighting their gear, he makes sure to point out all the memorabilia from his Mom’s time as a competitive skier. How awesome to display all those memories so the rest of us can enjoy them too!
Why is Home Town Sports a world class shop?
- One of the largest certified boot fitting teams in the country
- They use one of the most advanced canting/boot modification systems available
- Normally stores use plastic canting diagnosing shins. Not this shop. Home Town Sports uses custom milled aluminum to ensure your boot fit is even more comfortable.
- All tuning is by hand on a Reichman machine, based on World Cup Standards
The clock struck 8:30 am and Brundage is calling. Time to head out and get first chair. Thanking Eric for his time, the whole team sends us off with big smiles and says “Enjoy Brundage!”
Brundage, a place of surprises
We make the same trek as yesterday and park in the lot below the ski lodge. It looked like Mother Nature only provided an inch of fresh so our initial perception was we’d be riding groomers all day. Boy were we surprised…. In a good way. We gear up fast and are on our way. Whisked away by the High Speed chair, we survey the terrain below. The open front face is reminiscent of Grand Targhee WY. There is a few clumps of trees here and there but overall, it’s a big bowl-of-fun with a nice moderate pitch.
Decapitating the Conductor
Off-loading the chair, the winner of the snow sculpture contest greets us. Each year in January, McCall hosts a Winter Carnival and one of the events is snow sculpting. Large pieces of snow art decorate the entire town from the ski resort to the shops downtown. The winner and sculpture at the McCall ski resort of Brundage is a massive logging train complete with a conductor. As Ski Patrol removes the fresh snow from the carving, we overhear one of them talking about how the conductor’s attire had a rope tied on it, helping give extra dimension. A few days ago when again cleaning off the snow, too quickly that time, they accidentally decapitated him by snagging the rope. Fortunately, they quickly fixed him and the snowman engineer is still living his life to the fullest on display.
“French Toast” snow
Quickly strapping in, we drop into one of the many groomers from the top. We carved easily over the snow. My mind instantly thought of eating French Toast. I know, it sounds weird but imagine… The snow is soft on the bottom like the toast but with a coating of powdered sugar to make it extra tasty! It rode exactly like that. Perfect, fun, AND a treat!
Lakeview – A Powderhound’s secret
After a few laps on the front side, we know the McCall ski resort of Brundage has more in store for us. Riding over to Lakeview, we are greeted by some amazing conditions. Deep, billowy powder knee deep in spots, is ALL UNTRACKED. If this is what 1″ looks like, 4″ of fresh snow must be to your armpits! Talk about under-promising and over-delivering. So, why is there so much more snow in this part of the mountain? The only reason we could think of is that the terrain is only open from 9:30 am – 3 pm and lift access is via a fixed grip chair meaning the snow stays longer. Whatever the reason, we found entire slopes FILLED with untracked pow that no one had ridden. It was tough to leave, but we are meeting up with April & Jared, the Marketing geniuses behind Brundage, to show us some of their favorite stashes.
A Secret in Central America
Meeting up with our special guides, we hop onto the main lift. On our way up, Jared tells us he is originally from Auburn CA, which is just outside of Lake Tahoe and he is just as passionate about skiing as us. This is one of the reasons he made Brundage his home. Deep snow, uncrowded slopes, and a relaxed atmosphere are difficult to argue with. April’s path is a bit different as she grew up near the slopes on Mt. Hood but her love of Brundage is the same.
Zipping off the lift, we head to one of their favorites – A run named after a Central American country. Much like the surfing culture, we can’t divulge exactly the name of this spot or its location, but if your lucky enough to befriend a Local that’s in-the-know, perhaps they will share. It was beyond amazing! A bit steeper than the other zones we’d been riding AND still untracked. We hit this terrain a few more times before April headed back to the office. With a big wave goodbye, she is off. Jared decided to stick around for a bit longer and treat us to a few more secrets.
Turn up the heat!
With Lakeview shutting down, it’s time to check out another part of the ski area. We meet up with Scott, another fine employee at Brundage, and this guy RIPS. He grew up in the area but left for a few years to chase-the-snow. During his journey, he learned just how magical this part of the country really is. With Jared and Scott at the helm, we aimed straight for some serious, steep terrain. First up, the Northwest Passage. Steep, craggy & bumpy, this trail is fun to blast through while getting a few little airs along the way. Brundage may look tame, but if you know where to search, you’ll find slopes that will get your heart pumping.
Hidden Valley – The Zone for Steep
NW Passage is located in what is called the Hidden Valley. This IS the zone where all the serious terrain lives. From mandatory airs to chutes and cliffs, it can get dicey if you don’t know where you’re going. We can’t tell you exactly where to go but let’s just say when you do find it, you’ll know ’cause it’s off the chain! As we said earlier, put in a little effort and make some new friends. The Locals that know this mountain will open your eyes to a different Brundage experience and you don’t want to leave without it.
Brundage is as close to the Bay as Mt Bachelor
Did you know that McCall ID and Brundage are just a tad further from the Bay Area as Mt Bachelor is in Bend OR? We didn’t until we drove it. With little to no crowds, affordable lodging, amazing food, and steep fun terrain, this is the time to hit up this gem before people start finding out about McCall. We’re definitely coming back and enjoying this mountain next winter.
After slapping high fives with Jared & Scott from our amazing day on the mountain, we head back to McCall. On our ride down, we get a text from Corinne, the owner of North Fork Coffee Roasters. She asks if we’d like to drop by and see her roastery. I seriously can drink coffee from sun up to sun down. Being it’s my favorite beverage, we are on our way to the roastery!
A grungy garage not fit for your car… But it’s love at first sight
Inspiration to start North Fork Coffee Roasters began four years ago for Corinne. She is a purist at heart and loves to make everything on her own. From tortilla breads to condiments, Corinne’s new love is coffee. Roasting first began on a stove in a Whirly Pop. Her coffee was so amazing, her friends began asking for it. Spending the next two years looking for her roastery’s home, a grungy garage tucked away behind a building caught her eye and it was perfect. With a deep clean, a bunch of renovations and Corinne’s decorating touch, the roastery was born.
Great Coffee inspired by nature
We sampled a few of her most notable coffees and boy are they amazing! Our favorite is the Costa Rican. It has dark, cherry notes with a buttery texture and an aroma that reminds you of those butter cookies you find in tins at the holidays.
Noticing her labels, we realized each one is a bird and asked if they meant anything special. Her company is named after the North Fork of the Payette River and each of these river birds she chose can be seen flying around overhead. Each bird is paired with the coffee closest in
personality. Corinne explained the King Fisher is a super energetic, spunky, and fun bird translating to a coffee that gives you a little bit more pep-in-your-step. On the other hand, the decaf is a Damsel Fly, technically not a bird (and also technically not caffeinated) but still lives on the river. Her explanation of each was a perfect match and we learned a few new facts about the area. Now all caffeinated and hungry, it was time to head to our final stop of the day – Salmon River Brewing.
Drinking in an old train station
A funky artistic sign with three salmon illuminates the way to the entrance of Salmon River Brewery, aka SRB. Located in an old train station, it’s interior has that deep colored wood you would see in one of those nice railroad stations back in the early 1900’s. SRB kicks it up a notch and combines the deep colors with other reclaimed pieces for a bright atmosphere.
When a keg blows… A whistle blows!
Tonight we’re meeting McKenzie Christensen, with the McCall Chamber of Commerce, to get the inside scoop on McCall and the surrounding area. Like any great small town, people can tell when you’re not a Local. As soon as we stepped through the door, McKenzie waves at us and says, “Are you Local Freshies®?” We make a big nod and smile. It’s nice to feel so welcomed everywhere we go. Grabbing a stool, we begin chatting up like good friends. All of a sudden, a loud whistle blows – inside! What is happening?!? McKenzie laughs and tells us every time a keg blows, they blow a real train-like whistle. How cool! After the excitement, our server takes our order.
Passion is how you become a Ski-town Local
McKenzie is originally from Idaho but like so many Locals, she spent a lot of time in the summers visiting McCall and fell in love with it. After college, she was looking for a unique place to call home and McCall really called out to her. You can tell she’s driven and a natural leader so heading out on her own made total sense. The decision was easy. The lake access in the summer and amazing skiing in the winter made staying in McCall a given. From helping us find the Local spots to sharing a bit of history of the town, she is invaluable. A fun fact we learned is that McCall is where the official Christmas Tree, known as the “People’s Tree” in Washington DC, came from last year. What an honor!
From Hoppy to Sour to Coffee, there’s a beer for everyone
Meanwhile, our beer sampler arrives and if you’re a fan of hoppy beers then SRB is your go-to spot when in McCall. The names of the beers are worth mentioning too. From a Personal Flotation Device, or PFD Ale to Udaho Golden Ale and even a Buzz Buzz Chocolate Stout, you’ll be chuckling your way through the beer menu. There wasn’t a bad beer on the list, but here’s a few our standouts:
- Gose Sour – We’re not big sour beer fans but when they’re done right, they are downright amazing. This is one of those amazing beers. It has a slight tinge of melon that isn’t too sweet or too tart. The flavor is almost like a delicious tasting apple cider vinegar without the vinegar harshness. Definitely a must try.
- Buzz Buzz Coffee Stout – It’s winter so we naturally gravitate toward darker beers. The aroma starts with dark coffee notes and as you take a sip that image continues into a full bodied french roast. It made me think of breakfast. How perfect this beer would have been at Brundage after my French Toast snow run!
Best Elk Burger Ever!
As we finish the sampler, our food arrives. Let me preface that Elk burgers are typically dry and not cooked correctly. I’ve had many bad experiences with burgers made out of game meats. It takes a very talented chef to make a stellar game burger. Taking McKenzie’s guidance, we ordered it and shockingly, it was perfect! Juicy, spicy, and most of all downright awesome. If you’re a burger person, you must put this on your list to try when in McCall.
Fries are just better in Idaho
It could be the placebo effect, but it seems when you visit Idaho, every item made from potatoes, including french fries, just taste better here. That is especially true at SRB. Their french fries have the consistency of a waffle fry but the length of a steak fry. It gives them a texture that I’ve never seen anywhere else.
Loaded Mac ‘n Cheese
If you aren’t a burger person, it’s OK. The menu is big and there are a ton of other items just as good. The loaded mac ‘n cheese comes out in a French Onion Soup-style bowl and is sizzling hot. The ooey, gooey notes of the fresh cheese plus large chunks of chicken are just to die for. It ranks right in line with the elk burger and for anyone that loves cheesy things, this is a winner.
If you want to learn more about things to do in McCall, where to stay, what to eat and more be sure to read our first timer’s guide to McCall and the surrounding region: