Forest Service Receives Revised Ski Resort Application

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Developers of a four-seasons resort proposed for private and federal land just south of Missoula say they have given the U.S. Forest Service a revised plan intended to address agency concerns about wildlife, soil and scenery.

Bitterroot Resort would use Forest Service land for alpine skiing accessible by snowcoach, for Nordic skiing and for mountain bicycling. Private ranchland just off U.S. 93 would have lodging, dining, shopping and other features.

The Forest Service said two weeks ago that it had rejected the developers’ application for a special-use permit because of concerns about effects on lynx, winter range for elk and the alpine scenery that people see as they look up from the highway area.

Resort Chief Operating Officer Jim Gill responded early this month by saying the Forest Service would get a revised proposal “with a style of recreation that is compatible.”

The amended application redrew plans for skiing so it would be away from a lynx analysis area and winter range used by big game, Gill said Tuesday. To address the concern about scenery, tree thinning to accommodate skiers would be planned in consultation with Forest Service specialists “who oversee that type of activity,” Gill said. The resort developers also told the Forest Service they plan soil sampling to identify unstable areas where ski and bike trails should not be planned.

Lolo National Forest Supervisor Debbie Austin said the new proposal is up for a two-part screening that could span several months.

The first will examine whether the resort would meet various laws and fit within requirements of the Lolo and Bitterroot forests’ overarching plans, Austin said. If Bitterroot Resort clears that screening, the proposal would move to the next tier, with economic feasibility part of the analysis. Passing that stage would advance the resort for evaluation under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Bitterroot Resort ranchland is owned by the family of Tom Maclay. Since announcing development plans several years ago, Maclay has begun offering mountain biking and alpine skiing on part of the ranch. Skiers ride uphill in enclosed vehicles.