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McCall's Brundage Mountain Resort is growing into the future

"We understand Brundage is different, we want it to be different. And it's those attributes drawing people here," Brundage Mountain Resort President Bob Looper said.

MCCALL, Idaho — Nestled in the Payette National Forest in the West Central Mountains, Brundage touts the "best snow in Idaho".

In 2006, the previous owners did a land swap with the U.S. Forest Service where Brundage got 388 acres at the base of the resort in exchange for 349 acres within national forest land. 

At that time Brundage created a new master plan and vision for expansion on the mountain. Adams County Commissioners approved that plan - which included a 1,200-unit development - three years later in 2009.

Today, that plan is coming to fruition with more additions. The new owners are planning to develop and upgrade hundreds of acres at the base, as well as expand further into the forest.

The legacy of Brundage Mountain Resort

Maya Angelou once said: "You can't really know where you are going until you know where you have been." Native Idahoans sure know where McCall and its ski resort have been.

It's especially true for Ann Lloyd Edwards, who was born and raised in McCall. She and her late husband John lived there when Brundage Mountain opened on Thanksgiving Day 1961. 

"My husband managed the Brundage Mountain for 18 years in concert with the lodge because they worked together," Edwards said.

Don Chapman has also skied McCall for decades, teaching his kids and grandkids how to ski up at Brundage.

"Brundage, back then, was one double chair - and tows," Chapman added. "I think the old days at Brundage were just marvelous."

The ski resort was born out of three friends' passion for skiing. Before Brundage opened, Idahoans would head to Warren Brown's Little Ski Hill down the road, which he opened in 1937.

But Brown and his friends, Corey Engen and Jack Simplot, wanted a new, larger ski resort for the McCall area.

With its hometown feel Brundage has been a gathering place for the community since the 1960s.

"It's a friendly place," McCall resident Mike Johnson said, "You just can't beat it for a place to ski, especially in the middle of the week."

Growing Brundage into the future

Today, locals are watching more people flock to the mountain, and the town of McCall growing right alongside the rest of Idaho.

"There's an old saying: As the Valley goes, McCall goes," Chapman said.

While it's grown in popularity, the resort's aging lodge, facilities, and lifts haven't quite kept up.

The new ownership group that Looper leads, Brundage Mountain Holdings LLC, wants to fix that while keeping the family atmosphere.

"We do it all but it's not very efficient," Brundage Mountain President & CEO Bob Looper said. "We've got a plan to do that without disrupting what is that 'last great place' feel."

"It needs some love, for sure!" co-owner Kristin Sinclair added.

Eight Idaho families and investors - with deep roots or connections to the mountain - took over in 2020 after long-time owner Judd DeBoer passed away.

Looper and Sinclair say it's time to build off the previous master plan Adams County approved almost 15 years ago when the economy tanked.

They want Brundage to evolve into a year-round, outdoor recreation destination. This winter they announced a new 10-year plan for improvements and development on the mountain. It'll happen in phases.

The 10-year plan

First, the resort will build places to stay overnight on the mountain for the first time.

Tucked away, the 37-acre ski-in ski-out Northwoods development will have 21 single-family homes, 22 cottages, and 45 townhome sites.

"It takes a lot of infrastructure," Looper said, "We'll be putting in the water and sewer and power infrastructure for this phase 1. But that will also accommodate down future phases to build out."

Adding houses up on the mountain has some locals worried about the impacts down in McCall, knowing it will draw more crowds to the area.

"Those people are going to be in town adding to the shopping, adding to the parking," Chapman said, "It's a mixed blessing."

"We need to have the infrastructure to handle all the people that are here now and it's not working very well. There's no parking for people," Edwards added.

But they also recognize the resort needs to modernize.

Brundage will also break ground this year on a new 20,000-square-foot day lodge at the base. With the one-stop Mountain Adventure Center, food court, restaurant, bar and coffee shop, and much more seating indoors and outdoors.

"We'll try to grow the mountain down towards base area then ultimately out towards the south end," Looper told KTVB.

Skiers and snowboarders will see the earliest updates and expansion on the mountain's front side. However, pending Forest Service approval, they'll also see more terrain and lifts on the backside.

"Hopefully the terrain will be big enough to handle everybody," Johnson said.

Along with more runs, mountain biking trails, and hiking trails down the line, Brundage plans to boost snowmaking and add more lodging and condos. Its long-term potential master plan includes a spa and a hotel with a conference center.

Brundage will also expand its shuttle program, change the access road and entrance, and - to powder chasers' delight - add parking.

Growing pains

Lift tickets and season passes will get more expensive. Skiers and snowboarders can expect to pay more due to development, inflation, the cost of labor, and employee housing that will be built. 

The base price for this season's pass cost about $450. Full-day adult lift tickets will set you back $80. The owners don't know just yet how much the price of tickets and passes will increase.

Because Brundage has historically been known as accessible and affordable compared to other ski resorts in Idaho, Sinclair and Looper say their vision for the future includes "remaining a good value".

The owners say as they grow they want to keep a low-density environment, saying they never plan to build up like Park City, Vail, or even nearby Tamarack Resort.

"We're going to take it slow. We're in no hurry. We're going to do it right. But it is the time," Looper said.

No matter the pace, locals expect more people will equal more problems. And they expect more crowds and long lift lines on the mountain, adding to the growing crowds they see on holidays and weekends.

"We were already feeling the pressure of so many people moving to McCall and so many from the valley using it," Chapman said. "I think we're facing existential problems here."

And, admittedly, they want to cling on to the nostalgia of old Idaho.

But, in a way, the owners seem to live by Maya Angelou's words as they plan the future. They say they want to honor where the ski resort has been to guide where it will go.

"We understand Brundage is different, we want it to be different. And it's those attributes drawing people here," Looper told KTVB.

"We'll wait and see, I guess. I think the owners have the best intentions," Johnson said. "Yeah, I think they do too," Edwards added, "[They have] the interest in mind. I think they have a good heart for the mountain."

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