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This Epic Ski and Snowboard Spot Isn’t Well-Known or Easy to Reach, But That’s What Makes It So Good

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10 Barrel/Chris Wellhausen

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This Epic Ski and Snowboard Spot Isn’t Well Known or Easy to Reach, But That’s What Makes It So Good

Is this heaven? No, it’s Idaho.


The drive from the bustling metropolis of Boise, Idaho, to the quaint hamlet of McCall is a beautiful one — or so I am told. Thanks to a (partially self-inflicted) travel snafu, I got into the former a lot later than planned, about 9:30 p.m., meaning my 106-mile northwest passage would take place entirely in the dark. Oh and in the middle of a mild snowstorm. Considering the fact that as an NYC resident, I find myself driving four-wheeled vehicles only a couple times a year, the prospect left me mildly terrified.

But hey, it’s always darkest before the dawn, right? As I watched flakes fly into my windshield, navigated shadowy curves and thanked science for the invention of all-wheel-drive, I remained positive. The objectives of this trip were to drink great beer, eat great food, hang with awesome people and ride fantastic powder — and those pesky flakes sure boded well for the last item on that list.

Spoiler alert: Although I had never even heard of this place a few weeks prior, the skiing and snowboarding at and around Brundage Mountain Resort is secretly unbelievable. Including that one, here are five reasons this little-known, hard-to-reach place is worth the trip…

1. It’s Safely Under the Radar

If you’ve never heard of McCall or Brundage, either, I can’t exactly blame you. With a population in the neighborhood of 4,000, McCall is small even by Idaho standards — and on a clear day, the drive from the airport takes well over two hours. Also, if you are coming from the east coast, there are no direct flights to Boise. Suffice it to say, this place is fairly remote. 

Don’t need Bob Ross to tell you those trees are as happy as can be.10 Barrel/Chris Wellhausen

Idaho itself is better known for a B-52’s song, a Gus Van Sant film and, well, potatoes than it is for skiing and snowboarding, and Brundage is pretty low profile compared to the state’s most famous resort, Sun Valley. 

But if I have learned anything from several years of snowboarding, it’s that “fairly remote” and “pretty low profile” can be wonderful descriptors of a mountain. Hard to reach plus lesser known adds up to smaller crowds, leaving more fresh flakes for the hardy few who do make the journey.

2. The Nearest Town Is Tiny — and Charming

As I said, McCall is not a big city. Driving in after midnight, I was definitely getting Bedford Falls vibes. But just about any size town can be a blast for a few days, and this place is no exception.

The Hotel McCall is a delightful boutique-type spot with comfy rooms, complimentary morning coffee and bites, a fancy built-in restaurant with a sweet view of the mountain and lovely front desk people who will hook you up with cookies before bed if you ask nicely.

The view from the best hotel in town, which you can see is spitting distance from the best bar in town.10 Barrel/Chris Wellhausen

The town itself is home to some surprisingly good food and drink spots too. During my short stay, the standouts included the Fogglifter Cafe for breakfast burritos and sandwiches, The Sushi Bar (don’t ask me how but it’s fantastic) and a watering hole just down the street from the hotel called Foresters, which has cornhole and divey vibes but also a quality whiskey selection, including reliable Buffalo Trace spirits such as Eagle Rare. Good times.

3. The Vibes Are Rad (and Pro Approved)

Full disclosure: I found myself in Idaho thanks to the wild, wonderful people at 10 Barrel Brewing Co., a Bend, Oregon-based brewery that is steadily expanding its reach across the country with a focus on top-notch craft brews, a fun-loving, irreverent attitude and robust outdoor living.

As its footprint moves east, the brand has established an unforgettable temporary outpost in McCall called the Beer Lodge, where it hosts not only media like yours truly but friends, business partners and sponsored athletes.

The particular extended weekend I was there, 10 Barrel had brought a whole bunch of its crew out to socialize, strategize and create content. For me it was a great opportunity to soak up the culture, perhaps best exemplified by brewmaster Jimmy Seifrit and head brewer Ben Shirley, two Deschutes veterans with a wealth of beer knowledge and the outspoken personalities to match.

While I was already quite familiar with (and fond of) 10 Barrel’s popular, sessionable Pub Beer and higher-ABV, hopbursting stuff like All Ways Down, I was perhaps most impressed by how hard these guys and many other members of the 10 Barrel team shredded — which easily explained why elite snow sports stars as Eric Jackson, Lucas Wachs and Caite Zelliff love hanging with this crew.

What makes all of this relevant to the town and mountain is how welcoming these entities were to a pretty rebellious brewery that famously parted ways with Anheuser-Busch last year. Along with a number of other craft breweries, 10 Barrel is now part of cannabis-forward Tilray Brands, and by all accounts pretty happy with the arrangement so far.

The mountain folks were so chill, they even let us pack a Big Green Egg into a snowcat and bring it up to a yurt so we could grill dogs for lunch in the midst of an epic pow day. I’ve grown in admiration for BGE since working on Gear Patrol magazine’s oral history of the brand last year, but this trip gave me a new respect for its versatility. In addition to the lunch, we had a straight up feast mid-mountain our last night in town, packed with BGE-prepared chicken, salmon, steak — and of course plenty of thirst-quenching beer.

You can see pretty much everything I’ve referenced in the slideshows above. I should also mention that while we were snowcatting, the 10 Barrel athletes themselves went filming in the backcountry on snowmobiles and, from what we heard later, were just as stoked about the snow as we were.

4. Pow Hunting Gear Is Welcome Here

As we careen toward talking about the mountain itself, one more point must be made: If you’re gonna come all the way out here, bring your A gear. Nothing kills the fun of a powder day faster than foggy goggles, soggy clothes or hard goods that can’t surf snow like a wave and bring you joy with every blissful turn. So here’s a look at some of the items that served me well on this trip, from head to toe strap.

Smith Optics

Smith Method Helmet

Light and low-profile, the Method is still packed with features, including Koroyd and MIPS for maximum dome protection and eight vents to ensure cooler heads prevail. The Oyuki collab shown is a rare treat but this helmet comes in a bunch of stylish colors.

Smith Optics

Smith 4D MAG Snow Goggle

These goggles sit at the top of Smith’s product line for a reason: the cylindrical lenses provide a wide field of vision, the style is high and thanks to strategically placed magnets, swapping in the included additional lens is a literal snap — even while wearing gloves.

Helly Hansen

Helly Hansen LIFA Merino Midweight Crew Base Layer

With a 100 percent merino wool exterior and a 100 percent LIFA wicking interior, this top is warm, breathable and buttery soft.

Helly Hansen

Helly Hansen LIFA Merino Midweight Base Layer Pants

Like the matching top, these pants weave plenty of breathable, moisture-wicking capability into a performance-oriented base layer that will keep you cozy.


686 Gore-Tex Pro 3L Thermagraph Jacket

This garment is so loaded with features, it’s hard to do it justice in a sentence, but as the first Gore-Tex Pro jacket with body-mapped Polartec Alpha insulation, it provides a perfect mix of weather protection, comfort and breathability — while looking damn good.


686 Gore-Tex Stretch Dispatch Bib

Nothing to see here: just a totally bomber Gore-Tex bib with zippered pockets in all the right places, ample thigh venting and even little holes in the liner for the BOA dials on your boots, enabling easy tightening on the go.


Nidecker Supermatic Snowboard Bindings

While we appreciate the ease of Burton’s unique Step On bindings, they do limit your boot selection quite a bit. Meanwhile, Nidecker’s option in the fast snowboard binding category features a reclining highback; once properly set up, you can pretty smoothly step in (wearing any boot), stomp your heel and ride off.


K2 Cool Bean Snowboard

The size and shape of this weird wonder lend themselves to getting all soulful on the hill, really cutting loose and feeling the turns as you cruise down the slopes.

5. When It Storms, It Rocks — on and off the Resort

Alright, here we go. Another thing I have learned over probably a hundred ski trips is that when it comes to evaluating a resort, stats can be misleading. For example, a mountain’s number of lifts and trails can seem impressive, until you realize how creative some places get with trail labels, slapping names on the most mundane and inconsequential little stretches of terrain. Skiable acres can tell a more truthful story, though if most of the runs are green and blue and you’re more of a black diamond fan, you may still be bamboozled. 

And yet, Brundage shows how the numbers can actually undersell a mountain, too. Let’s compare it with Stratton, a perfectly respectable Vermont resort, and see how things can get twisted. Stratton comes out of the gate hot with 14 lifts and 99 trails. Brundage would seem to pale in comparison, with just 6 lifts and 70 trails

Finding fresh tracks in Hidden Valley (which is not that hidden — it’s on the trail map.)10 Barrel/Chris Wellhausen

However, Stratton’s bevy of lifts take you to 670-plus skiable acres, and 75 percent of the trails are rated “novice” to “intermediate,” leaving just 25 percent rated “advanced” to “expert.” Meanwhile, Brundage boasts 1,920 skiable acres, with 21 percent rated “easiest” and 79 percent rated “more difficult” to “most difficult.” In other words, less than half as many lifts take you to nearly three times as much terrain, most of it way gnarlier.

Wanna hear some really wacky stats? If you planned to hit Brundage tomorrow, an adult day lift ticket purchased online would cost you $92. For Stratton, it would be, erm, $199.

Of course, the only way to really know what a mountain can deliver is to actually, you know, ride it. Thankfully for us, we got in right after a pretty steady storm delivered at least a foot of new snow the mountain sorely needed. We rolled in a little late on a Friday morning and, looking down from the Bluebird Express, the slopes seemed a bit tracked out. But we were with a local, and as soon as we got off the lift, he made a hard left turn and led us on a 10-minute hike to fresher pastures.

Holy crap.

The snow on the terrain we reached via a lift ride and a hike was soft enough that jumping cliffs did not require the signing of a waiver. 10 Barrel/Chris Wellhausen

We proceeded to lap this same general area, known as Hidden Valley, into the early afternoon and found steep fresh tracks, pillow lines and jump-able cliffs every time. You really can’t compare to east coast mountains, but even at most big resorts out west, the sheer number of people results in even ample fresh snow getting tracked out by noon. Yes, we came in after a decent storm, but the bulk of took place Wednesday night, and we were still able to hunt down the goods on a Friday.

Of course, I would be remiss not to discuss the previous day, when we linked up with Brundage Snowcat Adventures for a backcountry sojourn. Yes, this sort of thing is pricey: a single cat seat costs $525, and a private 10-person cat reservation runs $5,000 (or $500 per person). But that fistful of cash grants you something truly special: expertly guided access to nearly 18,000 acres of sublime snow in the Payette National Forest.

Savoring snowcat-accessed backcountry paradise. (Look close, she’s smiling with her eyes.)10 Barrel/Chris Wellhausen

It’s worth noting that while our ace guides, Tessa and Kerry, were both skiers, our crew was mostly snowboarders — and they did a commendable job of directing us to the best places to strap on our boards and drop in for minimal frustration and maximum fun. 

It’s hard to put into words how freakin’ epic this was. If you are still a sucker for numbers, we did seven or eight runs and rode probably 10,000 vertical feet.

But that hardly does justice to the light fluffy powder, slope angles that were consistently steep enough to keep us coasting and steady stream of whoops and hollers as we all remembered why we got into these silly snow sports in the first place. With just a little bit of fresh powder, it is so damn fun.

See, snowboarders and skiers can peacefully co-exist.10 Barrel/Chris Wellhausen

Hopefully these pictures, and 30 seconds of Brundage backcountry video shot on my Insta360 cam — one of very few clips that did not get obscured by quickly snow-covered lenses — can tell the story a little better than I can.

But suffice it to say, no matter how challenging it is to get here, if you see a storm headed toward Idaho, give lil’ ol’ McCall a shot. If you get anywhere near as lucky as we did with not only the snow but the food, beer and company, you won’t be disappointed.

Oh and for the record: I headed back down to Boise during the daytime, and you heard it here first: the drive is beautiful.