Watch clouds cover Tamarack Resort in a dusting of snow
Since 2008, Tamarack Resort has sat half-finished after a series of financial issues. But new owners, who announced their agreement to purchase the resort near Donnelly on Tuesday, hope they can finally turn it into “a four-season destination of choice for Idahoans and visitors from across North America.”
The property will now belong to Tamarack Resort Holdings, or TRH, which announced the purchase in a news release. TRH is “a partnership of investors and managers with decades of development and operations experience at premier resort properties across North America,” the release said. The transfer of land and assets will close Nov. 30, the release said.
It’s not clear how much TRH paid for the property. Details of the purchase agreement are not being disclosed.
The resort has had a tumultuous history, starting a decade ago when original owner Jean-Pierre Boespflug defaulted on loans, forcing the property into foreclosure with construction only partially finished. Valley County put resort assets — including ski lifts and lodges — up for auction two years ago. A group of area homeowners bought part of the resort to assure the future of a ski season there, but Tamarack has never fully realized Boespflug’s dream of a new booming resort town.
Tuesday marked a major shift toward revamping the area as the State Board of Land Commissioners voted to approve a transfer of state lands lease to TRH. That would allow the company to continue operations on the mountain and work on “future expansion plans,” according to the TRH release.
The company’s acquisition of Tamarack Resort includes land, ski lifts, lodges, utilities, “a portion of the golf course and the unfinished Village Plaza. TRH is also purchasing other private real estate assets and parcels and is taking over the lease to operate The Arling Center event venue,” the release said.
“We have been evaluating and working on this agreement for nearly two years to truly understand the history and complexities of the resort,” TRH President Jon Reveal said. “The partnership strongly believes Tamarack has a tremendous opportunity to thrive as a four-season destination of choice for Idahoans and visitors from across North America.
“Our team looks forward to proving our commitment to Tamarack, Valley County residents, Idahoans and all our guests through investment, completion of unfinished projects and improved resort amenities and offerings.”
The resort will be open for skiing for the 2018-19 winter season, as early as Dec. 14, as conditions allow. TRH said the change in ownership will not affect visitors this winter, and any passes, ticket prices and scheduled events will remain the same.
Before announcing the purchase, Tamarack officials told the Statesman to expect other new offerings at the resort. The Statesman’s Southern Idaho ski guide, published Monday, details those additions, which include a new restaurant, possible changes to the terrain park and free programs designed to help newcomers learn to ski.
All current staff will also remain employed, TRH said.
‘We thought the best thing was to be quiet’
Kyle Mowitz, cofounder of TRH investor Imperium Blue, said in a phone interview Tuesday that the group “got serious” about buying the property about 18 months ago. The buyer kept its plans quiet in the interest of fostering credibility, Mowitz said.
“In the past, people would put out press releases saying ‘We’re buying Tamarack,’ ... and not actually buy it,” Mowitz said. “We thought the best thing was to be quiet.”
TRH’s development team plans to begin construction in early 2019, with a goal of finishing the half-finished Village Plaza by the 2019-20 season.
The company emphasized the level of resort experience behind TRH, pointing out that investor Imperium Blue has operations at Whistler Blackcomb, Mammoth, Snowshoe, Copper Mountain and Stratton.
Reveal has a history of ski resort management at places like Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, Yellowstone Club and Aspen Skiing Co.
From bright beginnings to financial instability
Tamarack, a 95-mile drive north from Boise, first opened in 2004, the $1.5 billion creation of Boespflug, who envisioned “Idaho’s version of Aspen.” In 2003, he told the Statesman that multimillion-dollar investments in the property were “a very strong endorsement of Tamarack, because (the lenders) do a lot of due diligence. They can see that this will be a successful project.”
Boespflug initially planned an all-seasons resort with restaurants, hotels, an outdoor mall, multiple golf courses and a “first-class marina.” Tamarack Resort Holdings acquired only a portion of one of the original golf courses, according to Tuesday’s release. The rest of the land had been portioned out separately over the years following the resort’s financial troubles.
Tamarack sold out multiple rounds of custom homes and lots in its first years, to the tune of about $200 million. It played host to the U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix series, launched new amenities and ski courses. President George W. Bush visited the property in 2005.
But amid the recession in early 2008, layoffs hit the resort, and Boespflug lamented an “extraordinarily difficult financing environment.” “Tamarack Resort hunts for financing,” “Tamarack owners file for bankruptcy,” “Tamarack developer: I’ll find the money,” Idaho Statesman headlines read that February. The resort’s owners turned to the Idaho Housing and Finance Association later that year, asking for $670 million in bonds. By early 2009, the resort shuttered.
Potential buyers came and went, and Boespflug disappeared. Local homeowners pooled their resources to buy some of the resort’s ski lifts, and Tamarack reopened for the 2011-12 season with Tamarack Municipal Association at the helm. (Tamarack Resort Holdings said Tuesday that it intends to restore the Wildwood lift, which was auctioned off.)
Since then, pieces of the property have been repossessed or auctioned off, and the resort has managed to open for skiing and summer festivals (though Huckleberry Jam called it quits in 2018).
Last October, the municipal association’s homeowners once again pitched in to purchase Tamarack assets. The resort’s “debt pile” had been addressed, The New York Times reported. By that time, the new buyer was already in talks to revamp the property.
Homeowners ‘cautiously optimistic’
“Being in this industry, you hear folklore about Tamarack and what happened, the stigma around it,” Mowitz told the Statesman. “The big challenge with projects like this is: Can you bring that trust back to the brand?”
Mowitz said Tamarack Resort Holdings worked closely with “a very small group of homeowners” affiliated with Tamarack Municipal Association in the acquisition process.
“I would say they’re cautiously optimistic, and for good reason. This is hard to do,” Mowitz said. “When you go through this for 10 years, it’s hard to buy in until you see it with your own eyes.”
Mowitz and Reveal, the company’s president, told the Statesman that they see Tamarack’s half-finished amenities as “a half-full glass.”
“The preservation of the buildings is actually quite good for 10, 11 years,” Reveal said.
“When we looked at the assets, that’s a benefit to us,” added Mowitz, who said TRH will be able to continue work on the property while customizing.
Reveal said he’s especially optimistic about the opportunities for summer recreation growth, particularly on Lake Cascade. He pointed to the resort’s lift-served mountain biking trails and said he’s hopeful TRH can recover the privately owned land that contains 15 holes of Tamarack’s original golf course.
Don’t call it world-class
Boespflug and his early investors touted Tamarack’s amenities as “world-class,” but Reveal said that appellation doesn’t appeal to him.
“What does world-class mean?” he said. “If they have to tell you they are, they definitely aren’t.”
Reveal said he’s not interested in competing to be the upper end of Idaho’s ski resorts. He’d rather see Tamarack remain a local operation that’s not just family friendly, but kid friendly. And he thinks that attitude, coupled with the resort’s existing guest services, could be the key to Tamarack finding its niche.
“We’re never going to be Sun Valley, never going to have pictures of Marilyn Monroe skiing at Tamarack. But we can try to be maybe the best of the resorts in the area,” he said.
“I have a firm belief that we need to be the best we can be and let other people speak to how great we are,” Reveal said.