Survey says ... We love Idaho skiing

Longtime skiers and boarders pick their favorite spots., pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comNovember 28, 2013 

Where are the best places to ski?

It's a tricky question, but it's one that's often discussed, debated and argued among friends.

It's undoubtedly been discussed thousands of times by thousands of skiers in Southwest Idaho, so we decided to ask some experienced skiers and snowboarders to give us their picks.

But first, there were rules. They could pick only among the four major ski areas in Southwest/Central Idaho — Bogus, Brundage, Sun Valley and Tamarack.

That's where the majority of Treasure Valley skiers and others in this part of the state spend their days on the slopes. Nothing against the smaller ski areas — we love them — but it wouldn't be fair to pit Soldier Mountain against Sun Valley.

We picked these folks for our panel because not only do they have decades of experience skiing in Southwest and Central Idaho, but they've also raised, or are raising, kids who share their passion for sliding on snow.

We picked their brains about not only what's good on the slopes, but what's good in the lodges, shops, restaurants and towns.

Here's what they had to say:

Where is your favorite powder?

Eric: That's a tough one. I've found great powder at all four resorts over the years, but if I had to break it down to the number of quality powder days skied vs. total days skied there, I'd have to go with Brundage.

I've just had too many good powder days there for it not to come out on top.

Tamarack gets an honorable mention, though, because it seems like I've had the place to myself quite a few times on powder days. I had one day there where I skied 12 runs in a row putting in tracks right next to the last set of tracks all the way across a slope in fresh, thigh-deep, uncut snow, and no one ever came remotely close to my tracks.

Paul: Brundage. It seems to consistently get the most and best powder of any of our local resorts. The combination of glades and the tree shots between the runs adds up to powder hound heaven.

J.T.: When I met my first wife she was a water-skier and snowboard racer, and I was a backcountry powder hog/sailor. Snow quality and an accessible body of water were at the top of our search list.

McCall (Brundage) won hands down because of the snow quality. Still does! The wife joined the ski school and I was a patroller/cat guide. We spent nine years skiing powder at Brundage.

Sam: Tamarack's Powder Thursdays can't be beat, because the snow piles up all week before the lifts open on Thursday.

But there are great pow stashes all over Brundage and on the backside of Bogus if you get there early. And there's nothing better than steep and deep powder on Baldy after a major storm.

What is your favorite resort for kids, and why?

Paul: Bogus has a great kids program and dedicated instructors who work with the kids to help them have fun and get started on a wonderful lifetime sport.

The fact that Bogus is so close to Boise and has night skiing makes it a real plus. You can head up early morning if your kids are up for it, or later in the day and still have hours of fun for a very reasonable cost.

The great variety of terrain allows the kids to keep progressing without burning out on the bunny hill. Both our kids started at Bogus, and they still enjoy the sport today. One even has gone on to a career in the ski business.

Sam: Dollar Mountain at Sun Valley is kids' paradise. Dollar has beginners areas, three terrain parks from beginner to advanced, race training areas, a superpipe and a fun "Family Cross" skier X course.

Nonskiing parents can view their kids from the comfortable lodge or from a seat around the fire pit on the deck. Parents who ski can shred Baldy while their kids ski Dollar. There's almost no way a kid can get lost at Dollar.

J.T.: Our nippers learned to ski mostly at Brundage and Bogus and now ski with Sun Valley. All three areas have great kids programs.

I like Brundage. The beginners area is separated from the main lift area and bordered by trimmed trees on both sides, great kids whoop-de-dos.

My children loved the "Black Forest," which is now off the Bear Chair. It used to be a hair-raising Poma ride. It was a big deal to get to ski in there. (I entered Black Forest on 195 centimeter skis and it beat me up! I can't recommend the ski moguls through tight trees unless you are younger than age 8).

Bogus is fun — the kids liked the Bitterroot area, but when they were really little I always skied directly behind them to act as a blocker — it can get crowded on the weekends.

Eric: It's hard to beat Bogus on this one because of the varied terrain and the fantastic kids programs in the ski school, freeride and race programs. Just think about how many kids have learned to ski and have grown up skiing at Bogus, and how many parents and grandparents who started skiing there have skied with their kids and grandkids up there.

Who has your favorite groomed and which ones are they?

Sam: Sun Valley's long, steep groomers are the finest corduroy cruisers in Idaho, if not the whole country.

Recreational skiers and speed demons alike enjoy Sun Valley. No resort comes close for groomers.

Paul: Sun Valley has groomers galore! If you just want to cruise on corduroy, Sun Valley is the place. Even with scarce coverage, they always seem to have great groomers.

So the man-made snow isn't quite the same as Mother Nature's stuff, but it allows great skiing well into March, and you can even get started early in the season as well.

J.T.: I used to avoid the groomed runs, but it's fun to make trenches on shaped skis.

At Brundage, try Engen.

At Bogus, hit Upper Nugget or War Eagle.

At Tamarack, hit Bliss for great rollers and fall away transitions.

At Sun Valley, the best is easy — Warm Springs top-to-bottom. The grooming is world-class, and the locals know how to let them run. Here the patrol is cool with 45 mph giant slalom turns if you are in control.

Eric: Sun Valley, hands down. Asking what my favorite groomed run is a tougher question. All the runs are groomed so well it just boils down to which-ever run has the fewest people on it.

I guess my favorite would be linking up Upper College to Flying Squirrel and over and down to Lower Warm Springs, nonstop, top-to-bottom, tears in the corners of your eyes and thighs burning. Puts a huge smile on my face just thinking about it.

Which ski area and/or town has the most fun off the slopes?

J.T.: Sun Valley. It's the only real "ski town" in that you can ski to and from town. It will cost some coin, but Ketchum is darn fun. Used to play backgammon in the Sawtooth Club — a pleasant way to warm up for an evening out.

Sam: Sun Valley is the quintessential fun ski town, because everything is right there at the bottom of the hill.

Warm Springs and River Run Lodges often offer live music inside or out on the heated decks. Apples has been named one of the nation's top apres-ski hangouts. And Ketchum offers a variety of excellent downtown dining for later in the evening.

Live music, shows, festivals and the historic Sun Valley Lodge attract locals and tourists alike and create a party atmosphere to rival any ski town in America.

Paul: Sun Valley/Ketchum has the best apres-ski environment, from the afternoon party on the patio at both lodges to the great restaurants to the choices of live music most weekends.

Eric: Easy answer would be Sun Valley or McCall because they're ski towns with all the apres-ski stuff that goes with them, such as restaurants, bars, night life and all that kind of stuff. But, truth be told, it's hard to beat Boise. Mountain towns are great, but there are limitations to what there is to do. There's just so much more to do in Boise.

Where is your favorite tree skiing of other off-groomed terrain?

Eric: I have to be very careful about how I answer this one. Do I share my wealth of knowledge of secret stashes with the world and risk being overrun, or do I play my cards close to my chest?

Let's just say it's at one of the four aforementioned resorts. Maybe a better way to answer this would be Bogus because of the varied off-trail terrain, Brundage because the trees are spaced out just so nicely, Tamarack because it's just so easy to get off trail and no one's there, and Sun Valley because of the consistent pitch and sheer amount of vertical.

How was that for a sleight-of-hand answer?

J.T.: Lucky Friday is good at Bogus if it has snow. The tree lines off the Summit Chair at Tamarack, and of course, the bowls at Sun Valley.

Try skier's left off the Centennial Chair at Brundage. Always keep the chair in the corner of your right eye and stay on the ridge, don't get sucked left into Meadow Bowl. The trees have holes and will open into mini-glades all the way to the cat track. We brushed this 20 years ago, and it still skis great.

Sam: We like a run skiers call Mexico and the trees off Engen and Stump Run at Brundage. And when there's good coverage at Bogus, The Triangle and Nugget Meadows, all off Chair 6 (Pine Creek Chair), and the trees between the runs off Chair 3 (Superior Chair).

Paul: Brundage has it all over the other places with the Lakeview lift accessing many areas that weren't accessible before.

There are many other "secret" spots with great powder days after a storm. They do get skied off sooner now that everyone has fat skis and heads for the powder as soon as the lifts open after a storm.

Where is your favorite terrain park?

Sam: No contest. The terrain park at Dollar Mountain in Sun Valley is world-class. With Idaho's only halfpipe and three top-notch parks, no resort in the state has come close.

Younger and less experienced riders learn on small jumps and rail features in Dollar's progression park, then move on to hone their skills in the medium park.

Experienced riders, adrenaline junkies and world-class skiers and snowboarders live to launch off the huge, perfectly designed and meticulously maintained jumps in Dollar's big park.

The chair ride is so quick; kids can get in gazillions of jumps. And the park crew is fun and welcoming. They really enjoy kids!

Sun Valley's Dollar Mountain appears in top ski movies each year. Sun Valley commits extensive snowmaking technology and equipment, hires skilled professionals to design, build and groom their park, and actually seeks and then listens to feedback from the kids and coaches riding the park. Lift tickets and season passes are very reasonable at Dollar.

It's easy to see why packs of "park rats" make the 2 1/2-hour drive from Boise to Sun Valley almost every weekend.

Eric: I'm not a park guy mainly because I'm old and crusty, but I have been known to jump in and play in the shallow end now and then.

Tamarack in its heyday would have won this one hands down, and hopefully sometime soon in the future, their fantastic park and pipe will return, but I'm glad to see Bogus making huge leaps forward in this category.

I'd love to see Bogus find a little space for some larger features that would/could put them in a solid position for the lead.

J.T.: If I get a foot off the ground I'm feeling pretty hot, so I'm no freestyle skier. The superpipe and tables at Tamarack are really fun.

J.J. McLeod at Bogus is building features off the Showcase Chair.

Defering to my son, Jamie, the winner by a long shot is Dollar Mountain at Sun Valley. They have built a stand-alone pipe and park area. It's just awesome.

Paul: Not in my repertoire.

Which ski area has the best skier services, i.e., food, rentals, lessons, etc.

Paul: Sun Valley offers unmatched skier services as far as food. I have not had lessons or rented equipment, but the choices for food are wonderful.

The quality is top-notch and prices are fairly reasonable when you factor in the location, and the ambience is incredible. Nothing else in Idaho even comes close.

Eric: I'm going to pick this one apart and treat each segment separately.

Food: That would be Sun Valley, but you better transfer some cash into your checking account before you get into the lunch line.

Rentals: I can't really say because, truth be told, I've never rented skis at any of the resorts.

Lessons: I'm going with Bogus on this one. From Mogul Mice to the Backside Bashers, they seem to have it all covered.

J.T.: Foodwise, depends if you're a corn dog or chicken cordon bleu-type skier. Hard to beat the Sun Valley lodges. Warm Springs, River Run and Seattle Ridge are truly a resort experience.

Brundage and Bogus skiers expect a greasy, high-dollar burger.

Tamarack is sort of in between. We really like their food, and have had a nice time chilling in all three of the base structures. The salad bar is recommended, cheap and filling.

Lessons: Bogus really excels here. Affordable and accessible. I gave my second wife a book of four walk-in lessons as a Christmas gift for years. She got pretty tired of them, but thanks to the Bogus ski school, Sue is now an all-mountain, all-terrain skier. If you are looking for a tuneup, weeknights are seldom crowded and you can use Bogus Bucks to buy the lessons at a discount.

Sam: Food: Sun Valley's soups and stews, made daily, offer an option for those who don't want fast food on the hill. Cheese fondue in the Round House at the top of the gondola is my favorite for a special treat.

Rentals: We rarely rent equipment, but when we have friends in town who need gear, we take them to McU's or Greenwoods.

Lessons: Bogus Basin's Passport program (for beginners only) is an incredible value, offering four half-day lessons, unlimited rental equipment and a season pass at the completion of the lessons for less than $250.

Who has your favorite out-of-bounds skiing/boarding?

(Editor's note: All four expressed concerns about sending unprepared people out of bounds. This is intended only for experienced backcountry skiers with proper safety equipment.)

Sam: Tamarack is the most out-of-bounds friendly resort. Adventure seekers can go through the boundary gates at Tamarack in search of powder stashes and pillow runs.

If conditions are stable and you are avalanche-trained, you can exit through the north gate in search of steep, untracked pow and pillow runs, then shuttle or hitchhike back to the resort. Out-of-bounds skiing to the south of Tammy offers slopes that are not as prone to slides.

Tele or alpine touring gear isn't required, but will make your trek easier, especially if you get caught in a gully. For side-country skiing, my cliff-loving son likes to boot pack Upper Hidden Valley and my "earn-your-turns" husband likes to hike Sargent (both at Brundage).

Eric: Tamarack. Go to the top and tour to the south for some great tree and glade skiing. Travel north and you have some great steeps and open bowls.

One of the best things about Tamarack out of bounds is everything dumps into the valley and eventually the road and it's an easy hike back to the resort.

J.T.: Ha. If I told you, I'd have to kill you. At Brundage, Sargents is a classic tour.

Same with Mores at Bogus. There is actually a lot more terrain when the snow is deep.

Easiest out-of-bounds access is Tamarack. Now that the Wildwood chair is pulled, all of the north runs over there are cut, but don't have lift access. The three bowls above Wildwood are great skiing but slide frequently. The Tamarack Grove is classic glade skiing, but be forewarned, if you drop too low, you will be hiking out West Mountain Road.

Paul: With all the concerns of skiers getting lost and having to pay to be rescued, we don't duck under any ropes, and I wouldn't encourage anyone else to do so.

Which is your favorite for the all-around skiing/boarding experience and why?

Eric: For me it's probably Sun Valley. Short lift lines, fast lifts and faster runs, always good snow, with plenty of good groomers, some great off-trail skiing and good food. Gas up the car let's go!

J.T.: Gotta go with our home hill — Bogus Basin. A 40-minute drive with the most affordable skiing in the world!

There is extensive, lit night terrain, and you can ski every day for at least 12 hours.

There is an end of the season PBR Ribbon Hunt and lots of family activities. Bogus has accessible cross country skiing (try the nordic lodge - it's a kinder, gentler place) tubing, and it is open to campers/RVs.

And where else can you pull up to the rear of the lodge and load the family five feet from the door? That's significant value added!

Sam: Sun Valley has it all. Baldy's abundant vertical with high-speed chairs have our thighs screaming for rest by early afternoon.

Dollar offers what kids and teens dream about. And with the extensive snowmaking at both of these Sun Valley resorts, you don't have to depend on the weather to have a great time.

Paul: While it is difficult to pick just one, for people who live in Boise, it's hard to beat the Bogus experience. The combination of proximity to town, affordable lift tickets, night skiing, and the variety of runs make Bogus Basin my favorite in the all-around category.

Which is the friendliest ski area, and what makes it friendly?

Paul: Tamarack wins this one. The last time we skied there, everyone was smiling and seemed genuinely glad that we were there. I hope they are able to keep it going.

Sam: Brundage has that no-frills, family-friendly atmosphere where everyone knows everyone.

At Dollar, kids are encouraged to have fun, not just tolerated.

But we've never felt more at home than at Tamarack. From the ambassadors handing out chocolate chip cookies in the parking lot to the friendly staff at the bottom, to the lifties and mountain management, our family has always felt very welcome at Tamarack.

Eric: I've skied for 45 years, all over the country, and I'm going to say it's a tie. I'm not trying to be politically correct here, I experience friendly people at pretty much every resort I travel to. It must be the type of people that gravitate to the industry.

J.T.: Gotta say — they are all friendly.

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