McCALL, Idaho – Don’t be fooled by the bra tree; Brundage is a family ski hill.
Every resort has its naughty side, and this is Brundage’s.
The tedious 12-minute ride up the Centennial Triple Chair has made an unsuspecting aspen tree as popular as Tom Jones.
The tree blooms with vibrant pinks, reds, whites and even oranges each winter as women sling their bras from the lift.
“I always wished there was a way to listen to some of the conversations on that lift,” says Mary Naylor, Brundage’s marketing director.
The tree has become such an icon, the Brundage gift shop sells bra tree shirts.
“I blame the people in Boise,” Naylor says of the city 100 miles south, where Bogus Basin has a bra tree much older than the one that’s been at Brundage for 12 years.
In that respect, the bra tree is a monument to how far Brundage and McCall have come in recent years.
While McCall has long been a popular summer resort town, it never used to draw huge winter crowds.
World Cup freestyle aerials champ Jeret Peterson grew up in Boise skiing at Bogus Basin and making summer trips to his family’s cabin on McCall’s Payette Lake. But he’s never skied Brundage. And he never really thought he was missing anything until recently.
“Now, I really want to get out there and check it out,” Peterson says.
He’s not alone. When Larry Shake moved to McCall in 1984, Brundage averaged 60,000 winter visitors a year. Today, that number is closer to 120,000.
“McCall has been discovered, and that’s made us more popular,” says Shake, former general manager of Brundage who still works for the resort.
The credit for the discovery of McCall as a winter destination doesn’t go to Brundage, however. The gem of a ski hill is just one of the reasons people keep coming back and have started snatching up property in McCall.
The big credit, even Shake admits, goes to their new competition – Tamarack Resort.
Last December, the nation’s first four-season resort to open in more than two decades changed McCall forever.
Property values in McCall have doubled, and people from around the world are buying vacation property there. The once-undiscovered Brundage Mountain now has season pass holders from 28 states and from as far away as South Africa.
And as impressive as this is, it pales in comparison to what’s happening 30 minutes down Highway 55.
Not only has Tamarack already built a similar season-pass base, but it’s selling vacation homes almost as quickly as it’s selling lift tickets.
In January, 134 properties ranging from a $325,000 condo to a $1.5 million chalet sold in one day. This summer, construction started on 25 custom homes, some as expensive as $8 million.
And Tamarack is already getting rave reviews for its skiing, even though last season it had only 700 acres serviced by five lifts. This year, two more lifts have upped easily-accessed terrain to 850 acres.
“Tamarack has great skiing,” Peterson says. “I was surprised how good it is.”
The skiable terrain will expand to more than 2,000 acres as Tamarack CEO Jean-Pierre Boespflug, a French real estate investor, says he’ll pump $1.5 billion into the resort over the next 15 years.
Of course, all this means Brundage will likely always be in Tamarack’s shadow. But that doesn’t bother Shake much. Brundage had always been overshadowed by Sun Valley anyway.
“But I think we offer something a lot of the bigger resorts don’t offer,” Shake said. “I think we’ll keep growing because we are a great family ski area.
“With a smaller base area, we aren’t a daunting place to bring the kids, like Whistler or Sun Valley. We get about 3,000 people on our peak days. What does Whistler get, 12,000?”
And with its $40 lift tickets, Brundage is considerably less-expensive than the region’s elite destinations (Whistler is $61.69 and Sun Valley is $69).
That’s not to say Brundage is content with its little bra tree and 1,340 family-friendly acres.
The resort is currently in the final stages of negotiating a land swap with the U.S. Forest Service that will allow Brundage to add five chairlifts, 1,000 acres of new terrain and a new mountaintop restaurant by 2012.
“We have to meet the needs of being a destination area now,” Shake said.
As he says this, he chuckles and recalls the days when McCall was just a quiet winter getaway.
“It blows my mind what’s happening here,” Shake said. “Of all the places there are to ski in the world, people who can afford to vacation in any of those places are deciding to come here. It’s an amazing time.”