Idaho Town Puts Its Ice and Snow on a Pedestal

Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

Are you ready for a whale rising out of ice or a sphinx emerging from snow?

This can happen along the high road to the Winter Olympics at Calgary (Feb. 13-28) in a central Idaho community that has only about 2,500 winter residents but is known as Ski Town USA. McCall is also a mini-capital of ice and snow sculpture.

The Idaho Falls team that will represent the United States in the international snow-sculpting competition at the Calgary Olympics won first place at the McCall Winter Carnival a year ago, and went on to represent the state at this year's mid-January national snow-sculpting finals in Milwaukee. The Idaho Falls team placed first out of entries from 17 states.

The 24th annual McCall Winter Carnival, Jan. 29 to Feb. 7, will feature ice and snow sculpturing.

Sapporo, Japan, where the 1972 Winter Olympics were held, has become a Partner City with McCall. Sapporo is famed for snow and ice sculptures, some as high as a five-story building. The partners will have exchange snow-sculpture team visits next winter.

McCall hosted last winter's U.S. National Biathlon ski championships and was to be the site of trials for the U.S. Olympic Biathlon team in December. But due to lack of snow, the trials were moved to Yellowstone. The British Olympic Biathlon team plans to train in McCall for Olympics and may be joined by other international teams.

In Media Shadow

McCall's Brundage Mountain downhill ski area has been in the media shadow of Sun Valley, 153 miles east of Boise, but for more than 25 years skiers have been drawn here by some of the best powder snow in the Northwest.

The town has been represented by local skiers in eight Winter Olympic Games, picking up silver and bronze medals at the 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. Lyle Nelson from McCall is on the 1988 U.S. Biathlon team.

McCall is in the mountains on the shore of Payette Lake, 108 miles north of Boise on Highway 55, near Interstate 95, on the way to the Calgary Olympics.

Nearly 22,000 people attended the 1987 McCall Winter Carnival. In addition to the ice and snow sculptures, this year's carnival will include a snow parade with clowns and marching bands, a variety show by musical celebrities, teen dances, Native American dances and songs, downhill and Nordic ski races, dog-sled races, snowmobile competitions, arts and crafts shows, drama and classic films. The finale of the Snowflake Ball will crown the Duke and Duchess of the Carnival.

Nez Perce Indians, whose ancestors created works of art on the stone cliffs above Idaho's Snake River 3,000 years ago, and who in the 19th Century lost their homeland to the white settlers, have been invited to participate in the carnival.

Other highlights this year in McCall are the American Festival Ballet on Feb. 21 and the Summer Music Festival in July.

First in the Valley

In the early 1820s, Francois Payette and his trappers of the Pacific Fur Co. were probably the first Euro-Americans to enter this valley around what came to be named Payette Lake. Toward the end of the century, fish companies around the lake netted thousands of pounds of salmon, trout and whitefish to feed the gold mining and lumber camps. McCall became a lake port with the Steamboat Lyda transporting supplies.

Today the lake, seven miles long and two miles wide, is a summer recreation center for fishing, wind surfing, swimming, boating, water skiing and skin diving. It is also the source of water for the valley. Nearby are white-water rafting, jet boating and fishing for steelhead and salmon on the Snake and Salmon rivers.

Development of 7,600-foot Brundage Mountain as a ski area began in 1961. The powder slopes are serviced by two double chairlifts, a poma lift and a rope tow. There are 18 runs for a complete range of ski abilities. The longest is three miles, with a vertical drop of 1,640 feet.

Although Brundage has groomed skiers for the Olympics, its goal is to be a family ski area. The ski school is directed by Corey Engen, who came from Norway to the United States in 1933 and skied on the U.S. Olympic nordic and jumping teams in 1940 and 1948. He was elected to the Ski Hall of Fame in 1973.

Little Ski Hill has a vertical drop of 500 feet with one T-bar, ideal for the beginners. Around McCall, six cross-country ski sites have more than 60 miles of groomed trails. The McCall 18-hole golf course becomes a place to carve your own nordic trails.

Panoramic Views

Area accommodations are small inns, lodges and condos. Shore Lodge on Payette Lake, the largest, has 115 rooms, a heated pool and exercise room and a dining room with a panoramic view of the lake. Double rates are $37 to $75, and ski packages are available. Brundage Mountains condos are $123 per night. Adult lift tickes are $16 a day.

Among the dozen restaurants in the area are the Chicken Roost, Cutty Sark on the lake, Lardo Saloon for Italian dishes, Huckleberry's local cuisine, the Mill styled for early McCall days, Kimberland's for gourmet dining, Mom's Cafe, Maria's and Si Bueno for Mexican cuisine.

For more information, contact the McCall Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, Box D, McCall, Ida. 83638, (208) 634-7631.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World