Holiday Traditions In McCall

Where seasonal festivities are adventurous as the locals

By Jefferey Spivey

When it comes to ski trips for the holiday season, only a handful of destinations top most travelers’ lists. Cities like Aspen, Telluride, and Lake Tahoe are known not just for their ski slopes, but also for the glamorous vacationers they attract. However, McCall is just as worthy of the attention. A January Wall Street Journal article referred to the town as “a ski spot without the glitz.” This is exactly why visitors are drawn to the area year-round—the outdoorsy crowd enjoys the slower pace and the small-town hospitality. But the holidays—and a slew of related seasonal activities—offer visitors and locals an opportunity to experience the magic of McCall in new ways.


Holiday Adventure
Haden Tanner, a local realtor who has lived in McCall for 15 years, enjoys “mixing social time with family and friends with the vast recreation and opportunities available to us.” He and his family (his wife, son, and daughter) have taken advantage of all the town has to offer. “In the years past, we have gone to the Blue Moon Yurt, which unfortunately is no longer active in Ponderosa Park; we have done the elk-feeding sleigh rides in Donnelly; we have gone to the tubing hill at the Activity Barn; soaking in the Gold Fork Hot Springs,” he says.

And this year, his activity schedule is just as full. Some of the favorites he anticipates most are hitting the slopes at nearby Brundage Mountain, sleigh rides and tubing at the Activity Barn, moonlight skate skiing, and snowmobiling to Burgdorf Hot Springs, to name a few.

Local Traditions
In fact, McCall’s slate of holiday activities is so extensive, the McCall Chamber of Commerce compiles the season’s itinerary in Mountain Hollydays, a comprehensive annual guide available in print and online at the Chamber’s official website. Mountain Hollydays offers a day-by-day breakdown of McCall’s biggest events, starting with November 17 and lasting through December 31. The guide includes everything from ski lessons and tree lightings to special breakfasts and craft days, like the recurring Make Your Own Christmas Ornament workshop.

“We are the quintessential winter wonderland,” says Lindsey Harris, a McCall native who has served as the Chamber’s Office Administrator for 3 years and plays a critical role in assembling Mountain Hollydays. “There was such a strong need to showcase what is going on around here,” she adds. The guide offers equal space to outdoor activities and promotion for local businesses.

“We have a very vibrant merchant scene here that loves to embrace shopping local,” she says. “Shop Local, Shop McCall” is a holiday season initiative designed to encourage residents and tourists to shop in town for their holiday gifts.

Harris also highlights the Festival of Trees as a key holiday fundraiser for McCall. During the night’s special gala, local businesses auction off decorated Christmas trees, and the proceeds from each tree go to designated nonprofits. The Festival of Trees takes place November 24 and serves as an unofficial kickoff of the holiday season.

The annual tree lighting, which has grown in scale over the years, draws a big crowd and takes place in the heart of downtown McCall, just off the lake.

The Spirit Of McCall
There’s no shortage of activities to enjoy in McCall both before and after the holidays. As much as locals can enjoy all that the town has to offer, Harris hopes visitors can also get the full McCall experience. “When you go to one of our events, you definitely get a glimpse of why people love to live here.”

Tanner agrees that the holiday season provides a great window into the best parts of local life. There’s a friendliness and sense of community that’s unique to the area. “I have had complete strangers buy me a coffee or a beer just because they felt like it,” he said. “I have seen people go out of their way to help others just to help. The town really is a village and tightly connected.” This spirit of connectedness is reflected in charitable events like the Festival of Trees.

But Tanner also loves the proximity to nearby mountains. He can travel to the lift line at Brundage Mountain in under 20 minutes. “I am able to drop the kids off at school, run up to Brundage, and get four to six runs in and back to office working by 10:30 that morning,” he says. He also names Payette Lake as one of the town’s biggest draws.

In addition to McCall’s packed schedule of holiday-themed festivities, there’s an active hunting community, in which Tanner takes part. “I grew up hunting as a way of life,” he said. He credits hunting as a powerful way for him to bond with his three older brothers, his parents, and his grandparents and provide food for the family. He also loves the challenge.

“The difficulty of being quiet, checking the wind, and the chess game of, where are the animals, where are they going, how do I get close enough to draw my bow without them knowing, hearing, seeing, smelling me,” he says. “Hunting puts you literally face-to-face with your food source. You learn to respect the food more and waste nothing.”

On the surface, McCall is a special place to spend the holidays because there’s an abundance of activities—shopping, skiing, tubing, decorating, hunting. Every day is filled with events from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. But beneath the surface, the holidays exemplify the true appeal of the town. There’s a connection to nature, both the outdoors and wildlife, and there’s a camaraderie between the residents, inclusive of how they support each other in business, friendship, and general kindness. With all the area has to offer during the holiday season, McCall may soon become more than an alternative to crowded ski destinations—it may become the destination.

Jefferey Spivey is a freelance writer living in Bentonville, Ark. Reach him at