Roger Phillips: Summer resort recreation isn’t a financial slam dunk

It will be interesting to see what happens at Bogus Basin and Tamarack, because both are navigating uncertain futures. They face challenges created by weather and finances, which are tightly intertwined for ski resorts.

Warmer winters and drought haven’t been kind to ski resorts, and Bogus’ season pass sales are down about 40 percent this spring, which are an important part of the resort’s finances because it’s literally money in the bank for the upcoming ski season.

Tamarack has a new owner and operating company, and it’s finding its way out of a financial fog.

Bogus is at the tail end of Central Idaho’s snowbelt and typically gets less snow than Brundage. Tamarack has snow-making, but its base is lower in elevation than Brundage’s, and warm winter weather can prevent it from making snow, or rainstorms can wash it away.

Bogus and Tamarack are trying to lure more people to their mountains during summer by catering to mountain bikers and others. It’s a smart move considering weather trends, and ski areas are great places to hang out during summer.

But skiing and mountain biking differ because there are many options for trail riding outside of ski areas, and lots of bikers don’t need a chairlift or shuttle.

Summer business is not new at Tamarack, considering it’s been a four-season resort since it started, but its mountain biking and trails have lagged while other activities resumed at the resort.

It’s going to be tricky for Tamarack, because it’s trailing Brundage and nearby Jug Mountain in getting its mountain biking rolling. People like choices, and having three resorts in the McCall area might entice more mountain bikers to visit the area or pack their bikes along if they’re already planning a trip.

Bogus’ infrastructure is trailing all three, because it has a modest trail network within the resort, but it has a great trail network adjacent to it. Around the Mountain and Eastside trails are among the best mountain bike trails in the state, and mountain bikers flock to them, especially when the weather gets hot in the Valley. But many riders bypass Bogus, so the challenge will be attracting them to the resort.

Bogus is operating a weekend shuttle service with a van taking bikes and riders from J.R. Simplot Lodge to Pioneer Lodge. Shuttles will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Cost is $25 per day for unlimited rides or $10 for a single ride.

Bogus has opened the J.R. Simplot Lodge from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and 11 a.m to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The lodge will offer food and a full bar, as well as billiards and darts. It will sell sunscreen, bike patch kits, energy bars and other items.

Bogus has also committed to run a chairlift on the first Saturday of each month starting July 4.

Tamarack is offering similar services with van shuttles for mountain bikers that will operate Saturdays and Sundays starting July 4 and running through Sept. 6. Hours will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Shuttle passes are $36 for a full day and $26 for a half day (10 a.m. to 1 p.m., or 1 to 4 p.m.). Reservations are required for shuttle service by calling 325-1030.

Like Bogus, Tamarack will open its lifts three times this summer for mountain bikers, hikers and sightseers.

Bogus and Tamarack are starting small and hoping to grow, and people should be patient and keep their expectations in check. With some success, they will have options to enhance their trails and services in the future.

But both resorts are competing with Sun Valley and Brundage, which offer lift-served mountain biking and other summer activities.

Brundage has quietly built a loyal following with its summer programs over the past 20 years by offering lift-served mountain biking and sightseeing, and this summer, it’s opening two weeks earlier (Saturday, June 20) and adding Thursdays to its usual Friday-through-Sunday schedule.

Sun Valley hosts the state’s largest biking event — Ride Sun Valley — a four-day event that runs June 25-28 and attracts cyclists from Idaho and throughout the U.S.

Summer business poses opportunity and challenges at ski resorts. Summer business tends to be less lucrative, except for Sun Valley, which is busier during summer than winter.

Focusing on summer makes sense financially for resorts, because it broadens the season, but resorts also must compete with a lot of other recreation. People in the Valley can go to Roaring Springs, go tubing on the Boise River, water ski, or do other summer activities that aren’t available during winter, when outdoor recreations are limited.

Resorts need to be creative and play to their strengths. Bogus is close to the Treasure Valley, and Tamarack can complement recreation on Lake Cascade and its nearby rivers and forests. But they may also run into trouble if they just try to mimic more established resorts that have better offerings and have built loyal customers.

I hope Bogus and Tamarack succeed. They’re valuable assets to the state and the communities they represent, along with all other resorts in Idaho. They employ people, provide recreation and add to the quality of life.

But I also feel nervous for Bogus and Tamarack, because they’re getting a late start in summer recreation and probably can’t rely on winter recreation to take a sudden turn for the better.