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McCall, Idaho — Ski Town U.S.A.

Candlelight and sumptuous yurt food at night...exhilarating backcountry snowcat skiing in the day. You can snowshoe, snowmobile or cross-country ski, too. The menu is varied and always delightful when visiting Ski Town, U.S.A., McCall, Idaho, home of Brundage Mountain.

Located l00 miles north of Idaho’s capital city Boise, McCall is a gem half polished and half in the rough. It combines world class accommodations and dining with wild, enchanting scenery. The dazzling view from the top of Brundage includes the nearby Salmon River Mountains, Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness, the stately Seven Devils towering over Hell’s Canyon, and lovely Payette Lake, with McCall nestled at the south shore.

The "Ski Town U.S.A." moniker evolved because McCall is and has been the home of a number of Olympic skiers. In winter, Brundage Mountain is McCall’s main draw. It is a small, relatively unknown ski mountain compared to the Sun Valleys and Snowbirds of the United States. The anonymity, though, is part of its allure. Add l50 inches of average snow per year, l,300 acres of lift served terrain, stir in l9,000 acres of available snowcat skiing — all in regal settings — and you have a superb vacation recipe.

Enjoying an Idaho powder stash   (Photo:Ben Blankenburg)

Blue Moon Yurt
Speaking of recipes, after a recent hearty day of ‘cat skiing in corn snow last winter, several fellow ski journalists (NASJA members) and I changed Volant Chub backcountry skies for cross-country skies and effortlessly threaded our way an easy mile to the Blue Moon Yurt. Here, tucked in a canopy of pines along the shore of Payette Lake, owners Lisa Whisnant and Bruce Rumbaugh served us an ethnic gourmet meal not soon to be forgotten.

Yurt dinner
Great dining at Blue Moon Yurt

We arrived as the amber sun was setting over the frozen lake. Torches lit the last 200 feet of the trail. The cozy warm wood heat inside the canvas covered yurt was accentuated by nine glowing candles on each of the three tables. The yurt itself is a unique experience with it’s colorful history, originating from Mongolian nomadic herdsmen. This circular structure creates a mood of its own, enhanced by good friends, good food, and good company. Multi-colored meditation flags adorned the rafters. Tibetan horns, Nepalese Tapestries, a Turkish rug and vests from Greece and Afghanistan hung from the walls.

For starters we warmed up with mulled cider, hot tea, and cocoa. As the evening continued, the camaraderie and wine flowed freely. We ate baked brie with sun-dried tomatoes and basil, jicama salad with a cilantro-basil-pecan dressing, tortilla soup, grilled salmon in roasted red pepper sauce, mango salsa and chocolate tort with raspberry sauce. Bon Appetite!

The evening came to an end with a moderately calorie-shedding ski back to our awaiting transportation. Each of us donned a head lamp for the return trip.

Snowcat Skiing Adventure
Brundage Mountain offers an overnight yurt and two-day CatSki Adventure. The yurt sits high on a mountainside with a commanding view of west central Idaho’s spellbinding scenery.

Venerable Brundage skier Harry Clark and friends, with assistance from the Forest Service, started Brundage’s CatSki program nine years ago. "It’s like heli-skiing. On a good day, you can get upwards to 20,000 feet, vertical, of skiing," says Clark. The season runs December through April. There are half-day and full day trips available in Nordic, alpine, combined, or snowboarding.

Loading up the snowcat

Beeper check
Avalanche beeper check

Isolated slope
Backcountry slope

Expert Brundage Mountain CatSki guides have many years of experience in backcountry skiing and maintain a high standard of safety. "We ski the powdery glades, big, open bowls and the steep snow fields. The skiing is superb and the scenery breathtaking," says Clark.

I laughed when he told me the story behind some of the ‘cat skiing run names. "The early guides named these mainly after food and sex," chuckled Clark. Names like Victoria’s Secret, Maiden Farm, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Bread and Butter, Brown and Serve, Dirty Harry, Sweetness, Toad Venom, Outhouse, Roly Poly and Blue Moon Bowl top the list. The latter came as a result of a backcountry ski couple being caught in an exposed position during a backcountry ski break. An awesome run that struck my fancy is aptly named Ozzum.

The Mountain
Brundage Mountain is eight miles from McCall. It has two triple chairs, one high speed quad, a platter tow, and a handle tow. The vertical drop is l,800 feet, and the longest run goes for two miles. The self described "old woman of the mountain" Ann Eberle is Brundage’s dean of ski instructors. "We have the most awesome snow here. It’s like Camelot. It snows when you need it. For people who like 'laid back and low key,' this is the spot," says Eberle.

Ann Eberle
Ann Eberle

Trail map
Which run next!?

They're all good!

Eberle has worked for Brundage since l975. "The thing I like the most about this mountain are the friendly, warm people. We especially cater to families and groups. Our Kid’s Center boasts a state licensed daycare for children as young as six weeks of age. The children’s ski program has lessons both morning and afternoon, beginning with age four."

The days I spent skiing Brundage were fun, challenging, satisfying. Seven of the 43 runs are groomed. Deep powder and frequent storms make Brundage one of the finest snowboarding areas in the West.

Every first week in February snow aficionados flock to McCall for the Annual Winter Carnival, famous for its’ extraordinary ice sculptures. Twenty years ago I remember seeing an ice replica of The Last Supper and other life size sculptures which were truly works of art. During this festive week, there is are special skiing, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, dog sledding, and sleigh ride events. It’s recommended to make lodging reservations early.

Timeless Shore Lodge

I first stayed at the Shore Lodge over 20 years ago. My love affair with this lodge of casual elegance has only grown with the passing years. It fits me like the old pair of skis on which I learned. Located on the edge of Payette Lake, the lodge offers deluxe guest rooms and suites, two heated pools, tennis and racquetball courts and a fully equipped fitness room. The Mural Room depicts early McCall life; the lobby has a grand piano and the library is filled with leather bound books, making it the perfect place to curl up and read. Over half the rooms have private balconies. The Narrows Lounge with stunning views of the lake and mountains is a perfect place to unwind with a hot drink or a cold beer after a rigorous day on the slopes.

Shore Lodge
A Shore Lodge guest enjoys a soak in the heated pool

‘Sno Wonder McCall is "Ski Town, U.S.A."
McCall, Idaho and Brundage Mountain: quiet, friendly, beautiful, with great snow and excellent food and accommodations — Ski Town and Hometown, U.S.A.. The kind of place where the painter, Norman Rockwell, would have set up his easel and stayed for a long time.

Click here for details to plan your own trip to McCall, Idaho.

           Larry Turner
            Article and Photos

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