Still Roaring

By Tristan Scott

More than 60 years later, Ebb Schuele’s classic chalet remains a centerpiece on Big Mountain with a passionate following. The buffalo brown building, built by Schuele in 1949 when Whitefish’s ski resort was barely two years old, has evolved from the first base lodge and the Rocky Mountain Chalet to its longstanding identity as Hellroaring Saloon and Eatery.

But through the years harsh winters battered the building and cast a shadow over the treasured mainstay that has been forever tied to the character and history of Big Mountain. Sections of the chalet’s foundation have weakened in recent years. There have been plumbing and electrical problems as well as issues with the roof.

The oldest structure on Big Mountain once had an uncertain future, but Whitefish Mountain Resort officials and the owners of Hellroaring Saloon have partnered together to ensure its preservation.

The resort has agreed to lease the land and hand over ownership of the building to the saloon’s three owners — Pat LaTourelle, Bob Riso and Riso’s son, Luke. The lease is for 25 years, with two additional five-year extensions available.

The new ownership means LaTourelle and the Risos have an asset they can invest in, and that’s exactly what they plan to do. Work is already underway to strengthen the chalet’s foundation with concrete. Structural renovations are planned over the next couple years, including upgrading the windows, siding and roof and repainting the outside, according to LaTourelle.

“It changes our focus a little bit more,” she said. “Now we have an asset and it’s something we own and really care about.”

It also carries on the legacy of LaTourelle’s late husband, Jon Bos. In the fall of 1975, Bos opened Hellroaring Saloon on Wisconsin Avenue in Whitefish. The business was relocated to the chalet in 1983 and for one winter was called “Schuele’s Copper Bar.” But after that it was renamed Hellroaring Saloon, “and it just took off from there,” LaTourelle said.

The chalet has undergone a few changes over the years, including the creation of 36 locker rooms for rent on the second and third floors.

But the inside of Hellroaring Saloon today appears much like it has for decades. The wooden walls display antique alpine skis, newspaper and magazine clippings heralding the local ski culture and old pictures of familiar faces. There are personalized autographed photos from Drew Bledsoe, Tommy Moe and Tanner Hall. A framed piece features Kalispell pro kayaker Brad Ludden on the cover of Outside magazine and a letter that Ludden wrote long ago, calling Hellroaring “the best saloon on the planet.” A banner from 1996 hangs from the rafters, reading, “Skiing Magazine’s Best Slopeside Bar in Ski Country.”

“I think it just blends in really well with Whitefish and the culture that we have here,” Dan Graves, the CEO of Whitefish Mountain Resort, said of Hellroaring and the chalet.

“It will be nice to have it there intact and with a facelift. (The building) was looking pretty poor for many years,” he added. “It’s nice to see it getting a facelift from the people who really want to take care of it.”

The building itself is now surrounded by the expanding Whitefish Mountain Resort. Customers eager for a lunch break can ski right up to the door and walk in to enjoy the famous mountainous nachos.

Whitefish resident Peter Butcher finds a place among the stacked skis and snowboards to store his board before heading into the Hellroaring Saloon and Eatery for lunch at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

“It’s a unique location. There’s not very many buildings like that in the middle of ski slopes with that kind of historical value around the U.S. anymore,” Graves said.

Despite Hellroaring’s popularity, the resort in the last decade considered bulldozing the entire chalet and relocating the saloon because of the building’s declining conditions. Public support rallied together to encourage the resort to preserve the chalet, which it did. But the resort decided not to invest in the expensive upkeep; it needed owners who would take on that task.

Bos passed away in 2002 and LaTourelle sold Hellroaring. But after a few years the new owners were close to shutting it down, and LaTourelle emerged to retake ownership with the Risos, who were longtime family friends.

“For me (Hellroaring is) his legacy,” LaTourelle said of her late husband.

This winter is on pace to be a banner season for Whitefish Mountain Resort, and that success is pouring into Hellroaring on a daily basis. On a recent weekday, the saloon was nearly filled to capacity only 30 minutes after opening. LaTourelle barely had a few minutes to break away from the action and share stories of Hellroaring and the chalet.

“I get stories from people who say they were engaged here in 1952,” she said. “A lot of people still come back and talk about (the building). We love it here. We’re happy that we’re staying put.”

Hellroaring Saloon and Eatery is open after 11 a.m. during ski season and for dinner during July and August. For more information call 862-6364 or visit www.hellroaringsaloon.com.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.