Feature June 20, 2017

A Mountain Playground

Bogus Basin Turns 75 with big plans for the future

Long before Bogus Basin became Boise’s backyard winter playground, the rugged wilderness area was home to a small group of swindlers who used the remote basin as a hideout to manufacture fake gold, which they would bring into Boise and sell to unsuspecting buyers.

It was from this sketchy past that the area earned its “Bogus” moniker from the locals, an unusual designation that often causes a bit of head scratching among visitors and newcomers when they realize it refers to Boise’s beloved ski mountain.

But to locals, Bogus is a term of endearment, as reflected in the bold bumper stickers seen on vehicles around town that simply proclaim, BOGUS. Sitting just 19 miles north of Boise, the 2,600-acre Bogus Basin Recreation Area has been described as close enough to downtown that you can sneak up to the mountain during lunch, get in a couple of ski runs, and be back at your desk in less than two hours. Some locals brag of skiing in the morning and returning to town in the afternoon for a round of golf.

Hard to believe, but Boise’s backyard playground has turned 75 years young this year and, fittingly, has opened an impressive number of new activities geared toward gaining summer visitors, which will ultimately benefit winter users as well.

Coasters and Tubing and Bungees, Oh My!

One can hear the anticipation and enthusiasm in the voice of general manager Brad Wilson as he ticks off the new summer activities, beginning with the big one, a mountain coaster, the first one in Idaho. Scheduled for completion around August 1, the gravity-driven coaster will pull riders up 1,000 feet of track and then descend down 2,400 feet of track that will thrill riders with curves, corkscrews, and downhill stretches. 

“The cars have seat belts and are locked onto the rails,” Wilson said. “The driver also has a braking system, so the speed you go is completely up to you. What’s also fun is that the mountain coaster will operate in the winter too, which gives people more reason to come up even if they’re not skiers. We’d love to introduce non-skiers to what a beautiful place this is in both the summer and wintertime.”

Leading up to the coaster are several other activities that await summer recreationists, Wilson explained. “By the first of July we expect to have the whole base area reconfigured, including a much larger grassy area, an expansion of the patio pavers at the Simplot Lodge, the addition of about 200 outdoor seats and tables on the patio, a new food and beverage outlet, and a couple of fire rings, which will create a casual place to relax before, during or after other activities.”

Other additions include a 300-foot-long summer tubing lane, which is much like a winter tubing operation but with an artificial sliding surface. There is also a new 32-foot climbing tower, a four trampoline bungee jump, two new conveyor-style lifts in the beginning ski area and gold panning, all of which are designed to engage kids and families. Finally, there will be new mountain bike trails, a bike skills and pump track, and some dedicated hiking trails going in as well. And, of course, the chairlift will be operating for hikers, mountain bikers and sightseers.

Bogus Beginnings

In her book, “Building Bogus,” Bogus Basin historian Eve Chandler writes about how a diverse group of local volunteers came together to create the mountain recreation area in the 1930s.

“It was the middle of the Great Depression,” she writes. “Kids and adults were looking for ways to entertain themselves during the winter months. There were few winter activities competing for their attention and boredom was rampant.”

When the Sun Valley Ski Resort opened in 1936, with the world’s first chairlift, Boiseans got their first taste of alpine skiing. They were hooked, and they began to make plans to build a mountain recreation area close to Boise.

But first, they needed to find the perfect site.

Chandler writes how, in 1938, volunteers skied and hiked over 150 miles of terrain looking for the right spot to build on, and eventually settled on Bogus Basin at the base of Shafer Butte.

But getting to the new ski area was another issue. In 1938, a groundbreaking was held to begin construction of the rugged, one lane road that, once completed, stretched 19 miles from downtown Boise and had 172 turns. The narrow, unpaved road was often muddy, icy and slippery and only allowed for one-way traffic, with cars heading up the mountain in the morning and coming back downhill in the afternoon.

The day Bogus opened in 1942, more than 200 valley skiers came out, many of whom brought homemade skies made from pine boards. The first rope tow was powered by a Model “A” motor.

“Community leaders gathered in the late 1930s to create a recreational area for the Treasure Valley,” said Chandler. “The single rope tow that opened the mountain to skiing in 1942 has developed into a four-season playground for the Treasure Valley.”

Growing to Meet Community Needs

Both summer and winter users of the mountain are enthusiastic about the changes coming to Bogus. Tom Patek, owner of World Cycle and long-time user of the Bogus mountain bike trails, said the new activities will “make the mountain healthy and fortify everything for the future.

“We’re used to riding down in the foothills where it’s dusty, sandy and hot in the summer, but you go up to Bogus and its 20 degrees cooler and you have this mountain terrain and environment,” he said. “I think most people feel like this is our mountain, our local playground, and not only for the winter, but for its fantastic biking and hiking experiences too. When you’re up there it feels like you’re on vacation. It’s just a really unique local gem.”

Boise resident Georgia Marshall has skied Bogus Basin for the past 40 years. As a former mountain Ambassador, member of the Bogus Basin Recreation Association and mom of three children who went through the racing program, Marshall sees the new summer activities as another positive change to the ever-evolving operation.

“Bogus is an incredible asset to the Treasure Valley, and they should do whatever it takes to make it a place to visit for people who are not skiers,” she said, adding that she hopes the new activities will help Bogus make enough money to run the recreation area without having to rely totally on winter activities.

Added Chandler, “For 75 years, Bogus Basin has improved the quality of life of Treasure Valley residents. From age 2 to 92, our community gathers on the mountain to Alpine and Nordic ski, snowboard, fly down the tubing hill, ride fat tire bikes, and snowshoe,” she said. “Valley residents return to Bogus Basin in the summer to hike, mountain bike, and attend summer concerts and school children attend Snow School to learn about the winter habitat of animals, how to recreate safely in winter, and apply science concepts in nature. Bogus Basin provides a healthy outdoor lifestyle for the people who live in the Treasure Valley.”

An Industry-Wide Trend

Bogus joins an industry-wide trend of expanding the mountain to multi-season activities. “Most of these activities were created in Europe where they’ve been doing this for quite a while, but it didn’t catch on in the U.S. until Congress allowed the U.S. Forest Service to change the language on their permits,” said Wilson. “Until that point there was very little you could do as a winter permit holder.”

The cost to create this new hub of activity is $4.3 million, which Wilson noted is about what it costs to replace one of the smaller sized chair lifts. “So we’re getting this whole palette of activity that will generate more revenue in the summer and will allow us to employ people who we’d normally have to lay off. Plus, it will give us additional money as we go into the less reliable winter seasons.”

The Future of Bogus Basin

Wilson said that even more activities are planned for Bogus Basin in 2018, including a zip line canopy tour, giant aerial adventure ropes course and more biking improvements. “All these activities are designed to keep you in the alpine environment so you really feel like you are in the woods,” he said.

“We see a multigenerational use now, where you have grandma, grandpa, and parents and kids all coming up to Bogus, and it’s neat to see how people introduce their kids then their grandkids, and continue to perpetuate it, generation after generation.

“We’re called Bogus Basin Recreation Area, not winter recreation area, so even when the area was built 75 years ago they fully expected to use it year round,” he noted. “We’re just updating the activities that weren’t available before, so we are truly a year-round mountain recreation area.”

This article appears in the Issue of Territory Magazine.