Tamarack Resort began like so many other big dreams--in the minds of a few visionaries with considerable nest eggs. But unlike over-ambitious debacles like a certain gaping pit in the middle of downtown Boise, this endeavor poured slowly and evenly into the ground cradled by mountains and lakefront just outside the tiny town of Donnelly, Idaho. Almost a quarter of a century after the first brainstorming session, the dream of an all-season resort on the western shore of Lake Cascade is being realized, and everyone from ski bums to multi-million dollar investors stand poised and ready for snow ... and golfing, ice skating, kayaking, biking, shopping, dining and curling up by a four-sided fire in 89,000 square feet of stylish luxury.
It all started in the early 1980s. McCall, Sun Valley, Boise and even Albion had established ski resorts that catered to tourists as much as local enthusiasts. But what about the prime acreage between the desert valleys of Southern Idaho and the gorgeous river basins and peaks of the Northern and Central regions of the state? A few gutsy investors thought to sculpt this all-season garden into an all-encompassing village/recreational mecca called Valbois, and it might have happened were it not for the so-called "federal regulatory hurdles" that caused them to declare bankruptcy in 1995.
The original idea sputtered and died, but from the ashes sprang a phoenix of new capital, energy and smart business. A fresh group of investors resurrected Valbois under the name WestRock, and two years later, the man who would see it through to Tamarack came on board as managing partner. His name is Jean-Pierre Boespflug, and with multiple advanced degrees in engineering and years of experience in networking, administration, real estate and handling large-scale commercial properties, he was the right man for a job that seemed impossible.
With Boespflug at the helm, the operation soon gained momentum and the permission of Valley County and the state government to implement the "master plan" that was soon to be called Tamarack. The name came from a distinctive grove of trees on the 2,100 acres of state endowment land that was originally leased to Boespflug and his associates for a period of only ten years. They appealed for a 49-year extension--the amount of time necessary to legitimize the status of Tamarack as a full-blown resort--and won the chance to build one of the most ambitious projects in decades. In fact, upon its completion, Tamarack will be the first new ski, golf and lake resort to be permitted in the United States in 22 years.
Starting in the summer of 2003, a dedicated crew began laying the foundations for Tamarack's infrastructure--roads, power lines, ski runs, sewer systems and running water. And all the while, the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) were strategizing and designing Southern Idaho's premiere full-service trail park with over 14 miles of single track and play areas to accommodate training in acrobatics, balance and maneuvering. This plan has since been cut and polished into existence, and the resort already has its own team of mountain bikers who have given their seal of approval.
Months later after two record-breaking real estate sales events and over $106 million in total revenue, work began on the resort's first permanent structure, an 89,000-square-foot lodge that will be a social ecosystem in itself. 20 million dollars will go toward filling the heavy-timbered space with 17 guest rooms and 27 condominium suites, three restaurants including a fine dining establishment with seating for 150, a private dining room, conference room and board room for member use, an enormous lobby with its own library, a full spa with trained aestheticians and licensed masseuses, an exercise facility with a separate yoga/pilates studio, two outdoor swimming pools and a Jacuzzi with its own refreshment bar, lockers and steam rooms, a golf pro shop, Nordic center, valet and concierge services and who knows what else. With six floors of total indulgence, the Members' Lodge & Spa is what most people would build if they won the Powerball (minus the gold-leaf walls and miniature circus, though we're not so sure they won't pop up on the next schematic).
This gargantuan plaza is part of "Discovery Square," the core of Tamarack and a veritable community, at least hypothetically. There are plans for an après-ski pub, a specialty market and deli, a full-service ski center for lessons and rentals, headquarters for ski patrol and emergency medical workers, plus an ice skating rink and a children's center. The fully approved "master plan" will accommodate 2,043 rental units, 381 personal lots, a handful of town-homes, cottages and condos and a hotel. The finished product will span almost 3,600 acres of terrain with 1,500 acres going to the golf course, housing and future developments and the original 2,100 acres dedicated to all things outdoor recreational--especially skiing.
Tamarack's mountain promises to be not only equipped with some of the best machinery for hauling people up, but also some of the best snow and scenery for the trip down. With 2,800 feet of vertical from a 7,700-foot summit, the angles are good, and the 25 completed runs (out of a potential 60) are a good mix of beginner, intermediate and expert. Two high-speed quads were installed in October with much fanfare, and it is everyone's hope that the December 15 grand opening will be a day of deep powder and even deeper pockets--an adult day pass is $55, but the 10-acre terrain park, 500-foot super pipe and long, groomed runs may soften the blow. Not that anyone who can afford his own lake-view chalet needs to worry about that ...
If Tamarack unfolds anywhere near as grandly and gracefully as its blueprints, then the Northwest will have gained a crown jewel that The Washington Post deemed "one of the top ten domestic travel destinations for 2004." That is if everything goes according to plan. Despite the millions of dollars, hours of manpower and emotions already invested, Tamarack has yet to fully manifest outside of the meticulous renderings in their brochures. The endeavor appears to be sound and already successful, but there is a reason a project on this scale has not been attempted in the last two decades. Older institutions have a vicious toehold in the industry, and it's hard to know what makes certain dreams materialize when so many others go the way of the Boise Tower (yes, that gaping pit in the middle of downtown Boise). But Tamarack continues to fight the pipe-dream label with ample resources, solid planning, skilled administration and perhaps a blessing from Old Man Winter come December. Here's Hoping.
For more information, visit www.TamarackIdaho.com