A Bogus Deal

bogus basin

A cheap season pass put the spotlight on an Idaho resort's innovative economics. But you hardly ever hear about the skiing.

A cheap season pass put the spotlight on an Idaho resort's innovative economics. But you hardly ever hear about the skiing.

If you've ever read anything about Bogus Basin, Idaho, it's probably been in the business pages. When Bogus began selling $199 season passes in the spring of '98 and almost doubled its previous season's revenue, big-time Colorado resorts like Winter Park, Copper, and Vail Resorts soon followed suit. The concept of price in skiing had been forever altered (hopefully). So value-seeking skiers have good reason to thank Bogus' GM Mike Shirley, who masterminded the whole thing.

But I hadn't driven the 16 winding miles from Boise to Bogus with Shirley just to talk dollars and sense. I wanted to see what all those skiers were getting for $199.

Now, I'm a snob. I grew up with places like Vail and Breckenridge in my backyard and don't always appreciate "quaint" local ski areas, folksy atmosphere notwithstanding. And that morning, looking up at the rounded, mouse-colored hills surrounding Idaho's capital city, I'd resigned myself to a day of iffy snow, rickety lifts, and short runs. So as Shirley and I slid up to the lift amid shouts of "Hey, Mike!" I was pleasantly surprised by the sight of the Deer Point high-speed quad and the impressive, snow-covered vertical unrolling beneath it.

After a couple long, lumpy cruisers below Deer Point, we traversed the area's perimeter en route to the back side of Shafer Butte, the stark, rocky peak that rises abruptly from the base area and is home to many of Bogus' truly expert runs. Along the way, I salivated over long, sparsely gladed slopes that will be part of a future expansion but aren't currently inbounds. I shifted my focus to a steep shot called Second Chance, which we soon bombed down to the shiny Pine Creek Express. The lift replaced a slow double in 1999 and illustrates how a successful economic experiment can improve a ski area.

Bogus is a bony mountain with runs winding all over its 1,800 vertical feet and 2,600 skiable acres. (To put that into perspective, Sun Valley has just over 2,000 skiable acres but almost double Bogus' vertical.) The ski area was developed by many of the same people who created well-ordered Sun Valley, but, Shirley says, "Here we use the mountain in all its perversity." I spent the morning seeking out the gnar. Mike patiently waited on piste as Roger Becker, a Boise local and Bogus off-piste aficionado who had joined us, led me through the clumps of trees that separate the marked trails. This was fun for the sake of exploration but none too special given the funky, weeks-old snow. "There's so much great skiing here, but most of it isn't on the regular runs," Roger said. "Very few people have skied all of this place."

Lunch was a friendly affair -- burgers and many calls of "Hey, Mike" on the sundeck below Pine Creek. (I admit, I got a bit caught up in the friendly vibe at this point.) I kept asking about the front-facing steeps, though, which we'd skipped on our morning tour of the Pine Creek area. So I went with Roger up to Shafer Butte. We circled the butte on Cabin Traverse until the front side of the mountain came back into view and we were standing above Last Chance. Looking down I thought: If only. It was legitimate big-mountain terrain -- steep and variable, with many shots to choose from. It reminded me of A-Basin or Alpine Meadows or even -- dare I say it? -- Vail. If only it had snowed. Well, at least the sun had softened the ripples somewhat. I dropped in, relishing the angle and the crumbly snow and the funky drop-offs and, okay, the folksiness of Roger in his old school outfit. I made ever happier turns until my quads started burning in a big, unhappy way.

Back at the base, the second shift was arriving. A throng of high school boarders and their parents were getting ready for night skiing, which accounts for 25 percent of Bogus' traffic. "We're just another local hangout, your typicall backyard mountain with no pretensions," Shirley told me later as we drank Coronas in the somewhat funky Bogus Creek lodge. "But my goal is to create a skiing experience that's as good as it is anywhere." Sounds like a good deal to me.