Michele Cretser at The Activity Barn, June 2018. Photo: Pam Benham.

A Family Affair

Michele Cretser and her family moved from Boise to McCall during the summer of 2012. The next year, she started working at Brundage, first filling in and eventually working most positions there: accounting, ski school sales, trail maintenance, bike patrol, day care, catering, lift operations and retail. She was the Brundage Events Manager for three years, an always-smiling, upbeat presence as she helped people plan their weddings and other gatherings while also expanding the resort’s events calendar. In addition to more live music concerts, Cretser helped establish the Cat Track Summit 10K run, Tails on Trails trail race benefiting MCPAWS, Pass Holder Appreciation/Family Fun Day, and Hope on the Slopes. The Pray for Snow Party and the Beer & Gear event have grown into big annual affairs.

Most recently, Cretser became Activity Barn Director, a Brundage position she’s held for two years and thoroughly enjoys.

Brundage quickly became family affair for the Cretsers, not just as a place for recreation for the family, but for employment as well. Cretser’s daughter Jade, now 27, first worked there as a college intern while earning her B.A. in Outdoor Recreation from the University of Idaho. Jade quickly took over management of the ticket office, then became Events Manager after Cretser moved over to managing the Activity Barn, adding some new events to the resort’s schedule before moving to White Fish, Montana to manage food and beverages at that ski area’s base lodge. Son Josh, 24, worked as the Brundage Bike Patrol Supervisor when the resort had an innovative volunteer patrol program. Most recently, Josh created and built Bruno’s Bungalow, the Activity Barn’s new food and beverage outlet, an experiment that was a huge success this past winter. Josh is currently a second-year student in the welding program at the College of Western Idaho and owns Roy’s Forte Creative Designs, making unique wood and metal items such as Adirondack-style chairs crafted from repurposed downhill skis.

Cretser’s husband Curtis spent his first career in a framing company he owned and operated. His second career is managing St. Luke’s Auxiliary Thrift Store in McCall, and he sometimes gets wrangled into doing building and maintenance at the Activity Barn, so yes, he too is employed by Brundage at times.

A life-long learner who thrives on challenges, Cretser recently began pursuing a graduate education online. Adding to her B.A. in Anthropology earned at San Jose State University in 1990, Cretser will earn a master’s degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the University of Hartford in the fall and is applying to doctorate programs in the same field.

Staff Megan Potter, Cretser and Laura Beck, with Potter’s children, enjoying the meadow at The Activity Barn, winter tubing conveyor lift in the background. Photo: Pam Benham.

The Activity Barn: Adding and Expanding Programs

The Activity Barn is located on Moonridge Drive a few miles south of McCall and west of Highway 55 on 1,500 acres that in the summertime is a working cattle ranch. First open for snow tubing, skiing and snowboarding the winter of 1999-2000, Brundage began leasing the area five years ago and started making improvements. Eventually the wintertime focus became tubing on the hill’s four 700-foot lanes that drop 85 feet, with a conveyor lift taking tubers back to the top in a quick two-to-three-minute ride. Two winters ago, after Cretser took over as manager, the area added new amenities such as Bruno’s Bungalow (“the snack shack” as Cretser refers to it) for food and beverages and a 5K trail that connects to the nearby North Valley Rail Trail for winter xc skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking.

This summer the Activity Barn is branching out by operating during the summer months, providing three week-long camps for kids. In the spring of 2019 they plan to add some mountain bike trails and are brainstorming other new programs and activities for families.

The area is quiet and beautiful, with views of the valley, Brundage Mountain, and Jughandle Mountain. And it’s dog-friendly. While dogs aren’t allowed on the tubing hill, they can join their people for xc skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking in winter, and hiking this summer. “Wouldn’t this make a great place for an off-leash dog park,” Cretser asked rhetorically.

Kids’ Camp Director Laura Beck helping Megan Potter’s children discover nature at The Activity Barn. Photo: Pam Benham.

Kids’ Nature Camp at Activity Barn This Summer

Cretser is excited about the new summer kid camp program. “Our mission statement is simple: Fun!” says Cretser. “And building community.” This summer there will be three sessions offered in July. The first, Intro to Outdoor Survival (July 9-13) includes activities such as knot tying, outdoor cooking, fishing pole construction, plant identification, berry picking shelter building, orienteering and first aid. The second, Outdoor Awareness (July 16-20) will feature habitat restoration along the Rail Trail, nature crafts such as making bird feeders, animal tracks casts and nature journals. The third, Outdoor Exploration & Leadership (July 23-27), includes skills such as orienteering, mapping, scavenger hunting, natural science experiment and nature writing and drawing.

Kids will be put into two age groups, 7-9 years or 10-12 years, with a maximum of twenty kids per session. Each camp runs from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm for a five-day session. Cretser says the kids will need to bring their own lunch to make sure no food allergies are triggered. The cost is $200 per child per session, with multi-session and sibling discounts available.

A McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS) student will lead the sessions. In fact, it was a MOSS intern working at the Activity Barn – Laura Beck – who first floated the idea of summer camp sessions. The Brundage day care also helped with ideas. Beck will be the Camp Director this summer, providing the creative framework for the program.

Another Brundage winter employee, Katie Craig, has been helping brainstorm activities for the kids during camp. Craig created Alpine Antics, a kid-focused summertime day camp that gets kids outside and learning about nature and survival skills. Cretser says Craig will bring her Alpine Antics kids out to the Activity Barn for some of her programs.

Activity Barn’s Megan Potter helps her children get an up-close look at nature. Photo: Pam Benham.

More Summer Fun

Cretser believes the Activity Barn venue is perfect for other types of summer programs. For example, on July 7th from noon to 6:00 pm the inaugural Art at the Barn event will provide a family-friendly venue for local artists to share and sell their artwork and crafts while the crowd is entertained with music, games and outdoor fun. “It’s low key and simple, for those looking for a place to share their work,” Cretser explains. “Jewelry, glass etchings, up-cycled clothing, an art tent for kids, and three bands this year. I hope it grows, even becoming a bit out-of-the-ordinary with attractions like belly dancers and fire-eaters!”

Cretser and her assistant, Megan Potter, are eager to support the local community with such events, while drawing locals and visitors alike to the Activity Barn during summer months. One example of this was the Gear Swap held for the first time earlier in late May, benefiting McCall Winter Sports Club. “We had people selling ski and camping equipment, bikes, canoes, kayaks, clothes, and music and beer” says Cretser. “We partnered with Alpine Wholesalers, who brought tons of stuff to sell. It was a big success. We’ll definitely do it again.”

Cretser’s main goal for the Activity Barn this summer is to make people aware of what it can offer families. “This fall, Megan would like to host a harvest festival so those growing their own food can share with the community,” says Cretser. It’s a beautiful, peaceful space that Cretser envisions will be open all summer and fall in coming years. In addition to this year’s kid camps and events like the Art at the Barn, Cretser hopes the summer of 2019 will see the first phase of a mountain bike park with expanded bike trails. For winter 2018-19, she and Potter hope to create a space – “Kids Corral” – with fun activities for those kids too young for big hill tubing. They also hope to offer fat bike rentals for use on the free Activity Barn Nordic trails as well as the nearby Rail Trail, and maybe host a snow bike event.

Cretser’s enthusiasm is infectious, and with the support crew she’s creating (Beck, Potter and others), the possibilities for expanded winter and summer programs at the Activity Barn are exciting and endless. The summer kid camps provide local working families with a great way to keep their kids engaged in a fun and structured outdoor learning environment for a reasonable cost, a much-needed community support. Under Cretser’s care and management, the Activity Barn is growing into a year-round place for anyone – resident or tourist – to play or relax, whether driving out to go tubing in the winter, to attend an event in the summer, or biking out via the Rail Trail and simply stopping by to spend a little time on the mountain bike trails.

(Cover and all other photos by Pam Benham.)

About the author

Rebecca Wallick

Rebecca is a freelance writer and publisher living near McCall, Idaho. A Seattle native and recovering attorney, she much prefers the quiet, slow pace, and distinct seasons of the West Central Mountains, enjoying the skiing, hiking and running opportunities provided by the nearby Payette National Forest. Rebecca is a Contributing Editor with Bark magazine, and the author of Growing Up Boeing: The Early Jet Age Through the Eyes of a Test Pilot’s Daughter (Feb 2014).

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