When the first phase of construction is finished this December, the Tamarack Village will have 56 condos and 24,000 square feet of retail space with ski-in and ski-out access.
Right now, though, it’s more like “Tyvek Village,” said Jon Reveal, president of the investment partnership that purchased Tamarack last November. He laughs at his own joke, standing in front of half-built mountain lodges wrapped in construction paper and scaffolding.
When Tamarack opened in December 2004, the sound of forklifts grumbled in the background as skiers made their first runs down Tamarack’s newly built trails. Fifteen years later, that construction still isn’t complete. The six main condo and retail buildings were halfway built when 2008 came around, and the French technology executive owner of the resort, Jean-Pierre Boespflug, defaulted on a $250 million construction loan. Construction stopped overnight.
Boespflug famously disappeared, leaving his resort to creditors. Bank of America flew in a helicopter to repossess the ski lift. The 18-hole golf course closed and sprouted a meadow.
To save the resort, many of the part-time residents that had bought lodges around Tamarack traded in weekends of skiing for long nights scanning legal documents. They rounded up enough funds to keep the banks at bay and the ski lifts open for part of the week, starting in 2011.
In the meantime, dome structures that house restaurants and gear-rental shops — meant to be temporary — have become seemingly permanent.
But if Reveal has it his way, they won’t be there much longer.
At 75 years old, Reveal has spent his career designing world-class ski resorts and bringing dying ones back from their snowy graves. Just before coming to Tamarack, he cut costs at Sleeping Giant, a nonprofit resort in Cody, Wyoming. He also designed the Yellowstone Club, a 13,600 private ski club just outside of Yellowstone National Park that fell into bankruptcy in 2008 alongside so many of the resort projects mid-build when the Great Recession hit.
“I’m Mr. Fix-It,” he jokes.
In fact, it was Miller who introduced Reveal to Tamarack’s new owners — an investment group that calls itself Tamarack Resort Holdings, which is backed by several private equity firms.
Reveal has worked across dozens of ski resorts, from Aspen, Colorado to Cody, Wyoming — but never any that were half-built like Tamarack.
“Each one of them is different,” Reveal said. “You have to recognize that what worked over there might not work over here.”
Reveal is set on putting Tamarack back together the way he found it. He kept the same operational team, led by General Manager Brad Larsen, who came to the property in 2015.
“It was a quiet time here,” Larsen said in an interview with the Statesman. Now, Tamarack is louder, but not yet buzzing.
On a lazy July afternoon, the patio outside one of the domed restaurants is scattered with couples eating lunch after a morning of mountain biking. A family wearing plastic red helmets heads into a sports rental store to return their zipline gear. Two teenagers follow behind them, looking to rent paddle boards for Lake Cascade.
“The new ownership wants to enhance what we have,” Larsen said. “They’re pushing for more hours and more activities.”
That means operating the resort year-round. Sun Valley, the famed resort just 200 miles away, now attracts nearly the same number
of visitors during summer as it does during the ski season, Reveal said.
He’s convinced that Tamarack will get there, too. He envisions it as a “top tier” resort within its class of master-planned four-season ski resorts, like Mammoth Mountain in California or Beaver Creek in Vail — but with one major difference.
“The one thing this resort has that no one else does is a lake,” he said — and a warm one, at that. Reaching almost 80 degrees in the summer, the water is warm enough for pontoons and lakeboarding.
For now, Tamarack’s boom time is still the winter. This summer, the resort employees about 80 people. That will double by December.
This year will be a big one for Tamarack. By the time the resort opens for skiing, construction crews will have re-installed the Wildwood high-speed chairlift repossessed six years ago, three of the six buildings will be completed, and residents will be allowed to move into 56 new condos. (A 490-square-foot studio will go for $349,000. The price for peak luxury, a 1,767-square-foot penthouse, hasn’t been released yet.) The resort isn’t disclosing what it’s spending to finish construction.
The timeline is strict. The State Land Board extended Tamarack’s lease in November 2018 on condition that it finish the Village Plaza by 2024. Reveal said Tamarack is on track to meet those deadlines. The second phase of the buildout is scheduled to finish during the 2021 ski season, adding 19,000 square feet of commercial space and 73 more condos.
Homeowners welcome construction cranes
The sound of pounding hammers rings through the air on Saturday morning, a welcome sound to homeowners who have persevered through Tamarack’s twists and turns.
Mike Carey, a Boise pathologist and Tamarack homeowner, bought his lodge in 2007 so he could have a close-by getaway for his family. When Tamarack closed a year later, he became president of the homeowners association that organized the funds to keep the resort going.
“All of us wanted someone to come in,” he said. “The owners have shown a commitment to the priorities of the resort — and that is, first, to get the Village built. That is the aesthetic core of the project and that has to get done.”
Reveal has yet to get any businesses to commit to opening in the commercial spaces, though he’s had offers. Just a few weeks ago an ice cream business called, asking about moving in.
Real estate agent Trisha Sears says it’s her job to bring in people so businesses succeed — but she and Reveal aren’t angling for national retailers or big-name brands. “We’re keeping it local and keeping it authentic,” Sears said.
Locals rely on Tamarack for jobs
The resort’s fate is interlocked with that of locals in Donnelly, population 138.
As Tamarack moved in, the town rebranded itself as a skiing and recreation destination, which was meant to help revive the economy after job losses in the logging and farming industry. But when the resort shuttered in 2008, many lost jobs, including city council members who worked there.
Business leaders want the town to prepare residents to work in its new industries. Sherry Maupin, a real estate agent and chair of the Central Mountain Economic Development Council, said her grounp has pushed for more training in hospitality and food-service jobs.
The construction at Tamarack has provided jobs for laborers, too. With out-of-towners looking to get their custom homes built around Cascade before ski season and McCall rebuilding its downtown streets, Tamarack has added competition to an already booming market.
“It has helped to drive up wages,” Maupin said. “A lot of the construction industry is offering benefits, which has never happened before here.”
Growth brings jobs, but it has also created a greater demand for housing. Some complain that what’s happening in McCall — where many homeowners converted their long-term rentals into Airbnbs and drove up housing costs — is already trickling down to Donnelly and Cascade.
Tamarack will eventually develop on-site housing for full-time employees, as Valley County requires, said Jessica Flynn, a Tamarack public-relations representative in Boise. Already, Tamarack has set up a few temporary buildings on-site for construction contractors. Many workers travel to Tamarack during the week, sleeping in nearby hotels and campgrounds.
That set-up could be a problem come winter, when construction crews will be expected to continue working. Reveal and Larsen still have many years of work until that vision of Tamarack, dreamed up by Boespflug in the early 2000s, can become a reality.
Said Larsen: “When that Village is completed and open and we take down these domes and move there — that’s the moment when I can say Tamarack has made it.”