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Originally published March 5, 2009 at 8:47 AM | Page modified March 5, 2009 at 10:41 AM

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Idaho's Tamarack ski resort closes amid avalanche of debt and lawsuits

Tamarack ski resort in Idaho shuts down because of debts and foreclosure lawsuits, leaving skiers and snowboarders, employees and resort homeowners, in the lurch

The Associated Press

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DONNELLY, Idaho — Three months after Marcos Salvador was hired to wash dishes at a swanky ski resort in the central Idaho mountains, he stood alongside Roseberry Road in the frigid cold and tried to hitch a ride to his last day of work.

Salvador, a 24-year-old college student from Peru, was among an estimated 250 employees let go as Tamarack closed down Wednesday after four years of operation.

The first destination ski resort in the country was created in Idaho by a railroad magnate in the 1930s at Sun Valley. Tamarack, which billed itself as the first new destination ski resort in a quarter century when it opened in December 2004, failed because of debt, foreclosure lawsuits and $2.8 million in losses since October.

Salvador paid $300 a month to live in affordable housing provided for employees down the street from the resort. Workers must vacate a colony of rust-colored homes by Sunday, he said.

"We don't know what's going to happen to everyone who worked there," said Salvador, who is going to live with a friend until he can find another job. "I am very sad."

Several factors doomed Tamarack, including an ambitious building plan by French owner Jean-Pierre Boespflug that drained a $250 million construction loan, tight credit markets, collapsing resort real-estate demand, foreclosure litigation and $20 million in unpaid construction bills.

Financiers at Credit Suisse Group are shuttering the resort operation after a $2.8 million operating loss since Oct. 20, according to court documents reviewed by The Associated Press.

Douglas Wilson, head of the California-based receiver running the resort since October, has told a state court judge his company plans to use $1.7 million in new funding to mothball the place.

About seven miles outside this former timber town, skiers and snowboarders dotted the Tamarack mountainside on Wednesday against a backdrop of unfinished condominiums.

"It's going to leave a big hole," said Bridget Feider, a 29-year-old snowboarder from McCall who planned to use the last of a Tamarack gift card.

A massive crane hung lifeless near the resort lodge, where a health club employee boxed up spa products. A message thanking employees for their hard work was scrawled across a whiteboard.

Tamarack, on the shores of Lake Cascade reservoir, has seven ski lifts. Of 2,100 planned chalets, condos and town homes, only 250 are completed, near a golf course.

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Another 174 residences sit half done, a mountain lodge is similarly incomplete and the centerpiece Village Plaza required emergency measures late last year to protect it from winter.

Tennis stars Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf bolted from a luxury hotel project, and Bank of America threatened to remove ski lifts after Tamarack missed payments.

At the edge of the expansive property of winding roads and fancy, unfinished buildings, Doug Dvorak worked from the luxurious estate home he and his wife built on Discovery Drive.

The 47-year-old and his wife, Cathy, are from Chicago and bought a lot here two days after seeing the resort for the first time. He has poured more than $3 million into the property. He got in 44 days of skiing this winter.

"Nobody, from homeowners to investors, thought this was going to fail," said Dvorak, a motivational speaker who lives in Idaho about six to eight months of the year. "Everybody was drinking the real estate Kool-Aid."

The value of his 3,600-square-foot home has dropped between 15 percent and 20 percent since he built it, Dvorak said. Still, he has no plans to sell.

"Am I happy that I can't get up and go skiing tomorrow? No," he said. "But we're still committed to Tamarack. It's just going to be different for a while."

A small band of homeowners at Tamarack is working with the Credit Suisse Group to keep at least parts of the resort open, such as the health club, and find a way to hold on to the lifestyle that drew people here, said Dvorak, who is treasurer of the Tamarack Municipal Association.

The homeowners association, which has about 340 members, maintains roads within the resort and plans to keep the area open for owners but cut back staff.

Dvorak is optimistic. Some homeowners are angry about buying property here, he said, but some are like him and just waiting for the market to turn around and resuscitate the development.

"There could be a white knight," Dvorak said. "Most of the hard work is done. I think there are some really smart people on the sidelines ready to snap this up."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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