Outdoors

Big Changes Proposed on Big Mountain

Forest Service seeking public comment on project that includes building a chairlift to Hellroaring Peak

If all goes according to plan, skiers and snowboarders at Whitefish Mountain Resort could be riding a chairlift to Hell in the near future.

Flathead National Forest planners have released proposed designs for an ambitious expansion at Whitefish Mountain Resort’s Hellroaring Basin, including building a new chairlift to the top of Hellroaring Peak, a popular area for expert skiers currently accessible only through backcountry travel.

The announcement of the proposed changes launches a public comment period that lasts until Nov. 20.

According to the proposal, resort managers want to relocate the existing Hellroaring chairlift, with the lower terminal beginning at the Grand Junction area and the upper terminal near the entrance to the 1,000 Turns run.

The plan also calls for installing a new lift from the Grand Junction area up to Hellroaring Peak; clearing eight new runs and some glade areas; building a service road from the top of the Swift Creek Express Chairlift (Chair 2) to the Grand Junction area; constructing a cat track from near Hellroaring Peak to the Gray Wolf Run; completing three terrain modifications on the existing Hell Fire run and one modification on the existing Swift Creek run; and rehabilitating the Purgatory run and the portion of the existing Hell Fire run below Grand Junction.

The gladed areas would retain between 75 and 125 trees per acre (an average of 100 trees per acre or an average of 20-foot spacing), and retention would focus on the largest trees available.

Some portions of the proposed gladed areas would overlap with proposed hazardous fuels reduction treatment areas from the Taylor Hellroaring Project, a timber project currently in the analysis phase.

The proposed modifications would be completed between June and November over a three-year period, possibly non-consecutive.

A large portion of Whitefish Mountain Resort’s ski slopes are located on U.S. Forest Service land, so the proposed changes require approval by managers with the Tally Lake District of the Flathead National Forest, which will conduct an environmental analysis of the proposal following the public scoping period.

“The purpose of the proposed project is to enhance the skiing experience in the Hellroaring Basin area within the Whitefish Mountain Resort permit boundary,” according to the Forest Service.

Construction would require the use of helicopters and heavy equipment.

Tree felling would be accomplished with machines where feasible and hand-felling would occur where machine felling isn’t practical. Trees and slash material would not be removed from the project area, and disposal methods would vary depending on specific location and the amount of material to be disposed. Possible methods of disposal would include scattering, burning, or leaving on the ground to provide wildlife habitat.

Specific, written comments on the proposal should be submitted by Nov. 20. Comments may also be sent to commentsnorthern-flathead-tally-lake@fs.fed.us or to Tally Lake Ranger District, Attn: Hellroaring Basin Improvements Project; 650 Wolfpack Way; Kalispell, MT 59901.

The Forest Service welcomes requests to be added to the project’s mailing list in order to be notified of additional public comment opportunities. To do so, provide contact information (preferably email address) to comments-northern-flathead-tally-lake@fs.fed.us.

Project information and documents are available online at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=55012.

If you enjoy stories like this one, please consider joining the Flathead Beacon Editor’s Club. For as little as $5 per month, Editor’s Club members support independent local journalism and earn a pipeline to Beacon journalists. Members also gain access to www.beaconeditorsclub.com, where they will find exclusive content like deep dives into our biggest stories and a behind-the-scenes look at our newsroom.