With Ski Lifts Idle, Tamarack Owners Are Worried

By Beacon Staff

BOISE, Idaho – For Dallas retiree Richard Snyder, the thrill of his central Idaho getaway is gone.

Snyder built his 3,500-square-foot vacation retreat at Tamarack Resort four years ago, in an era marked by frenetic construction and new lifts whisking skiers to the 7,660-foot summit.

This week, he learned the lifts will be idle this winter — another casualty of the deepest recession since the Great Depression.

“It’s gone from, ‘I can’t wait to get out there, it’s so great,’ to ‘Why go?'” Snyder said in a phone interview from Texas.

Tamarack has come to a standstill as a Credit Suisse Group-led lending syndicate fights to recover at least a share of the $300 million the resort’s owners owe from a construction loan.

Tamarack’s majority owner Jean-Pierre Boespflug didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. Credit Suisse declined to comment.

Other Western ski resorts have also been hit by the recession. Southwestern Montana’s Moonlight Basin, near Big Sky, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this month. In addition, the owners of the swanky members-only Yellowstone Club, also near Big Sky, liquidated opulent furniture in November.

But Moonlight Basin and the Yellowstone Club will still fire up their lifts this month.

Before Tamarack’s Christmas 2004 opening, Boespflug billed the place as America’s newest four-season getaway.

Tennis star Andre Agassi pledged to build a luxury hotel. President George W. Bush visited in 2005, fishing on nearby Lake Cascade with then-Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, the man who would soon become Bush’s U.S. Interior secretary.

Then came 2008 and the real-estate crash. Agassi double-faulted on his hotel plans and workers laid down their hammers as Tamarack’s owners ran into trouble with their bankers. A court-appointed receiver running operations shuttered the resort in March 2009, as Credit Suisse refused to cover mounting losses.

Now, Bank of America is even fighting in court to repossess the ski lifts.

In a sign of just how far it’s fallen, Tamarack has become a target for bargain hunters. One chalet that sold for $900,000 in 2005 recently changed hands for just $200,000.

Matthew Castrigno, whose Idaho Resort Rentals in nearby Donnelly manages about 30 Tamarack properties for owners, said his business has been brisk as rental prices plunged by half, to $200 nightly for a three-bedroom chalet.

“You walk into them and you can tell a great amount of love and care went into the homes,” Castrigno said. “You know it’s someone’s personal statement. To see that dream completely lost, it’s sad.”

In the latest setback, a homeowners group pushing to fire up lifts by Christmas said their proposal failed when Mexico-based Inmobiliaria Las Fuentes, S.A. withdrew its $7.9 million loan offer.

Inmobiliaria had demanded to be repaid before the lenders led by Credit Suisse. The Zurich-based bank vowed to fight the plan, and the Mexican company’s appetite for a costly legal battle simply wore thin, according to the West Mountain Preservation Management Association homeowners group.

Inmobiliaria could not be reached for comment.

William Brown, a retiree in Portland, Ore., who bought his Tamarack cottage in 2006, is now banking on the foreclosure trial in March pitting Credit Suisse against Tamarack over the defaulted construction loan to resolve the nearly 2-year legal fight and provide an opening for new investors to save the resort.

“I think it will reopen, but I have no idea when,” Brown said. “There is a lot of investment that’s gone into the ground there. So when the world recovers in a couple of years, someone might step up and decide to move it forward.”

In the meantime, Tamarack’s $105 million Village Plaza development remains unfinished and wrapped in insulation, though Credit Suisse has pledged protective advances to cover electricity, insurance and winterization bills so assets don’t deteriorate.

There is a small ski area, Brundage Mountain, about a half-hour to the north in McCall, where Tamarack residents can ski.

And efforts to offer limited winter recreation at Tamarack, including Nordic and snowcat skiing, may be in the works, said Tim Flaherty, director of the Tamarack Municipal Association.

That’s not enough for David Bell, from suburban Chicago, who bought his Tamarack townhome in 2006.

Bell mothballed his place when skiing ended last March; he won’t return this winter, not without the lifts running.

“There are not enough amenities to make it worthwhile,” he said. “We’re fundamentally hunkering down.”

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