Battered and bruised Tamarack Resort could take a significant step this week toward a clearer financial picture and getting on track to being the kind of four-season destination playground early planners once envisioned.
True, a high-speed chairlift was ripped out for nonpayment, the marketing budget dropped from seven to six figures, and plans to draw international travelers shrunk to enticing locals within 100 miles.
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But a turning point is possible Thursday when the Idaho Land Board decides whether to transfer a 2,100-acre lease to a company called New TRAC that emerged after a sheriff's sale last spring. For that transfer to happen, a majority of the five-member board will have to be persuaded at the special meeting requested by New TRAC that the company can afford about $278,000 annually to use the land on which the ski area is built.
The company, state officials said, wants to make sure it has the lease in hand before it moves ahead with opening the ski area and incurring expenses. The company also wants to address potential problems or defaults caused by its predecessor, Tamarack Resort LLC.
New TRAC was formed by Credit Suisse, which completed a credit bid at the March 10 sheriff's sale to own three big sections of the resort, including the ski areas. A consortium led by Zurich-based Credit Suisse is owed more than $300 million for Tamarack, which is north of Boise.
Patrick Hodges of the Idaho Department of Lands said he doesn't anticipate problems with the lease being approved. "I think the state would like to see Tamarack operated as a ski area, and as long as New TRAC can perform on that level, the land board will approve it," he said.
The lease represents one of the state's more lucrative deals, and it is far more than the $80,000 annually state officials estimate the land would generate if it reverted to timber harvest.
Tim Flaherty, executive director of the Tamarack Municipal Association, said the lease would be another step toward firmer financial footing for the resort in the post-bankruptcy years following the Great Recession.
Besides New TRAC, three other entities own parts of the resort. Eventually, Flaherty said, given sound finances, deals could be made to bring the resort under one owner. The municipal association, formed near the resort's start to run the place, is continuing to run much of the resort under New TRAC, Flaherty said.
The association in recent years has been operating just to break even while keeping the facilities maintained. But that's starting to change, Flaherty said, an indication being that the ski area will operate seven days a week this winter rather than four as in years past.
"We're certainly not out of the woods yet. But it's looking much better than it did several years ago," he said.
The municipal association employs about 45 people in the summer and 130 in the winter when it operates the ski area.
The resort also has 370 homeowners with about 400 deeded properties. Most of the properties are rentals for vacationers, but Flaherty estimated that about 10 to 15 percent of the owners are full-time residents at Tamarack.