Tamarack Resort closed on March 4th, the latest in a long line of boom and bust stories in the West. Located 90 miles north of Boise, Idaho, it was first major ski, golf and lake resort to open in the US in over two decades. Hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, Tamarack and CEO Jean-Pierre Boespflug failed to generate enough revenue from real estate sales to keep operating. As a skier, former Tamarack employee, cattle rancher, and Idahoan, I wish to write a few words in reflection.
I don't have to say that this is an economic disaster for the over 200 employees and the general area. Some of the discussion has been that Tamarack would have made it if the economy just wouldn't have slumped. It would be more accurate to say it never would have got off the ground if (opening in December 2004) if it hadn't caught the end of the largest housing bubble in history.
Tamarack attracted only 27,000 skier visits this season, far less than neighboring Brundage Mountain. Locals didn't ski there. To them it was known as Tam-a-scam, Glamarack, and finally, when it all went down, Tamtanic. This sentiment was partly due to their lamenting the loss of their Valley. And it was partly due to the dislike being mutual. Upper management openly told us during meetings their goal was to make it a private hill, open only to property owners or people who pay club fees of thousands of dollars. This required a certain degree of hubris, as the ski course falls almost entirely on public land.
The entire episode hints at the larger question of what type of society we want to live in. Do we want to live in a society such as America was (with notable exceptions) toward the middle half of the 20th century? That was a society of one class of people, who sent their children to public schools, and were protected by public police officers, and drank public water. Or do we want to be a society like Mexico, with an ultra-rich class, living in gated communities protected by private security, sending their children to private schools, and drinking private water? The general population gets what remains. Tamarack was a gated community whose distance from town negated the need for a gate.
Consider the principles on which Tamarack was founded: lack of concern about local people or the environment, private incursions on public property, massive amounts of debt, funneling money and power to those who already have them, class divides, opulence, and so on. They're strikingly similar to the policies associated with neo-liberal economic policies. This isn't some abstract concept; neo-liberalism is championed by both political parties, and is written into domestic economic policies along with trade agreements such as NAFTA.
It is important to provide outdoor recreation opportunities. But it just doesn't make any sense to build new ski resorts. Global warming continues to loom over the head of the entire industry. The percentage of skiers who are beginners is decreasing. We are losing community hills, the lifeblood of the sport. The one segment that is growing rapidly is backcountry skiing. New and expanding resorts take away prime areas from this sector, and are highly resented for doing so.