Forest Planners Unveil Assessment of Ambitious Hellroaring Chair Proposal

Public comment on proposal in Whitefish Mountain Resort’s Hellroaring Basin open until June 1

Flathead National Forest planners have released an environmental assessment for the proposed design surrounding 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.

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 conducted an environmental analysis of the proposal following an initial public scoping period last fall.

“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.

The U.S. Forest Service has since completed its Environmental Assessment (EA) and is asking for a second round of public comment lasting until June 1.

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.

According to Whitefish Mountain Resort officials, the benefits of the Hellroaring Basin Improvement project include creating an opportunity to open Hellroaring Basin earlier in the season while providing better access to Hellroaring Basin’s terrain.

The resort says the project will also enhance the variety of terrain in Hellroaring Basin; eliminate negative grades on three major areas on the Hell Fire trail; add defined groomed runs to provide more intermediate terrain for skiers and snowboarders; improve tree-skiing terrain; improve the experience on the Hell Fire run by removing negative grades; create a safer evacuation route for injured parties out of Hellroaring Basin; and help to improve the flow and spread out skiers and snowboarders across the mountain by creating more options for guests.

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.

Pending approval from the Forest Service in late summer 2019, the project would require multiple phases over a minimum of two years. No timeline has been set and will not be determined until after the resort receives direction and approval from the Flathead National Forest’s Tally Lake District.

Hellroaring Basin opened for the 1996/97 ski season for skiing and riding above the Highway to Heaven traverse. In 1997 the Hellroaring Chairlift/Chair 8, which was previously located on the north side of the mountain since 1985 as Chair 7, was moved to Hellroaring Basin opening the lower section of Hellroaring Basin including the Grand Junction area and Hell Fire ski run. For 20 years Hell Fire has been the only intermediate-level run in Hellroaring Basin.

The assessment is available online at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=55012. According to forest officials, comments on the assessment with supporting reasoning should be submitted electronically to comments-northern-flathead-tally-lake@fs.fed.us.

For additional information, contact project leader Rita Bennett at rita.l.bennett@usda.gov or at (406) 758-3528.

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