There is nothing glitzy about Bogus Basin. The simple base lodge houses only a standard cafeteria, ski school and rental shop.Even the area's name has a humble ring to it.There is nothing glitzy about Bogus Basin. The simple base lodge houses only a standard cafeteria, ski school and rental shop. Even the area's name has a humble ring to it. But Bogus has as much terrain (2,600 skiable acres) as its more famous Idaho cousin Sun Valley, and it is the ski industry's success story of the decade.
Bogus earned its name back in the 1880s, when two prospectors loaded a shotgun with a few dollars' worth of gold dust and blasted it into the walls of a worthless cave. They galloped downhill to Boise where they slammed their "find" on a local bar and sold shares in the mine to gullible patrons. By the time the new owners sobered up and saddled up to claim their fortunes, the swindlers had disappeared. No record remains of losses, but the fleecing must have been substantial. Today, only the name Bogus Basin remains, and, in place of a pack trail to a worthless mine, a road that will make your stomach churn.
Built in 1938 by WPA crews, the road offered access to the high, snowy mountains above Boise. Sixty years later, the road still has 162 turns in the 16 miles it takes to get from Boise to Bogus. And yet, for all the road's twists and turns, Bogus would not exist without it. Lacking a local resort, Treasure Valley skiers would be forced to drive two hours north to Brundage Mountain in McCall or three hours east to Sun Valley.
When Alf Engen picked the site for Bogus back in 1939, the father of American powder technique probably never imagined the small area would outgrow his beloved Alta in skiable acres. Over the years, upgrades have been extensive, especially since 1998. That was the year General Manager Mike Shirley slashed the adult season-pass price 60 percent to $199 and the children's pass price by nearly 90 percent to $29. The response was shocking, even to Shirley. During the 1997-98 season, Bogus sold 2,854 passes for $450-$550 and recorded only 191,714 skier visits. When Shirley reduced prices, the resort quickly sold more than 25,000 season passes for roughly $3.6 million.
By season's end, day-ticket sales had shrunk by 50 percent, but total skier visits rocketed to 303,441, and total revenue increased by 60 percent. Bogus' success had a ripple effect, and local retailers reaped benefits, too. "That first year, everything came out of the closet...Hexcels, stretch pants, ancient boots," remembers Bill Tregoning, co-owner of Greenwood's Ski Haus on Bogus Basin Road. "When people remembered why those boots went into the closet in the first place, our business jumped 35 percent and has held that level since. Skiers who were reintroduced to the sport are now buying high-end equipment."Last season, Bogus witnessed 370,000 skier visits, and for the winter of 2002-03, it will sell roughly 30,000 season passes. "We've been able to spend $16 million to upgrade two double lifts to high-speed quads and have purchased $1 million worth of snowcats that enable us to groom much more terrain, more often," Shirley reports.
The $199 season pass also broke down economic and social barriers. Boise professionals, homemakers and retirees wouldn't miss the Backside Bashers, Vertigals and Prime Time ski groups. Students at Boise State University cut classes on powder days, and families crowd the resort on weekends. Quite simply, the pass made skiing affordable-and popular-again.
It is mid-March, and my son Robert and I are thrilled to encounter 10 inches of powder at Bogus rather than groomed slopes. It's snowing torrentially, and visibility is down to 20 feet, but the resort's vast parking lot is full, absolutely packed.
As we shoulder our skis and lean into the heavy snow-storm, we hear live music. A thunderous blast of horns and drums erupts from the packed lodge. Stanford University's marching band is in Boise to support its women's basketball team and made the ride up the hill to Bogus for the U.S. Freestyle Championships. Fronted by the Stanford cheerleaders and the Palo Alto dwood Tree mascot, the band is rocking the house.
Robert and I step into our skis and head for Bogus' famed backside-an area favored by the Backside Bashers who meet once a week to ski the resort's expert glades, steeps and chutes. We catch the Deer Point Express Chair to the top of Deer Point, then follow the Nugget Cat Track down to the base of the Pine Creek Express. Snow is falling at a rate of an inch per hour when we turn down the edge of Wildcat to the Pine Creek base. On the next run we explore a stand of ancient Douglas fir to "Matchless." Despite the heavy storm, the chairlifts are loaded and skiers drift through the fog. The storm intensifies, and we poke into tiny glades and tilted meadows where the snow lies cold, silent and untracked.
Pass sales will finance a future lift down in the Clear Creek Drainage which, with Forest Service approval, will add 700 acres and increase Bogus' skiable terrain by 27 percent. The resort is also planning to add three lifts on More's Mountain that, when combined with the Clear Creek Drainage, will add roughly 3,000 acres to the resort's existing 2,600.
That would make Bogus as big as Vail, at least in terms of terrain. But Bogus has only 300 pillows at its base, and destination skiers make up only 10 percent of skier visits. In fact, despite nearby Boise's excellent hotels, restaurants and vibrant nightlife, Shirley insists Bogus is not a destination resort: That honor belongs to Sun Valley. And yet, after 30 years of living in Sun Valley, it is difficult for me not to compare the two resorts. Bogus offers 1,800 vertical, Sun Valley 3,400, but while Bogus skis fully on 2,600 acres of mixed runs, bowls and glades, Sun Valley's 2,054 acres rely more on groomed runs and bowls. Bogus receives more snow than Sun Valley, but it lacks Sun Valley's 645 acres of snowmaking. Due to a lack of water, Bogus can only patch and fill the most heavily trafficked areas with snowmaking. Then again, Bogus has 90 acres of night-skiing open seven days a week until 10 p.m.
I didn't realize that living in Sun Valley had made me something of a snob. I regarded Bogus as a poor cousin, a bit threadbare and not worth the drive from the Wood River Valley. After skiing the Superior Chair, Pine Creek and the glades between, I now admit I was wrong.
Some years ago a Bellevue, Idaho, man discovered a strong box in his backyard filled with gold double eagles. For me, Bogus is like that strong box, and if a few tipsy locals were fleeced a century ago, this high, beautiful bowl, has repaid that debt a thousand times over.