Bitterroot Resort Questions and Answers
Q: Wasn’ t a resort proposed on Lolo Peak several years ago?
A: The U.S. Forest Service, along with the Missoula and Bitterroot communities, actively discussed a ski area for two years. More than 60 percent of Missoula voters said yes to a resort development in a 1988 referendum. In 1990 it was felt that the lack of adequate base area acreage, and an absence of water rights for snowmaking, made a ski area too high of a risk to attract a qualified long-term developer. Bitterroot Resort brings base-area land in the form of the Maclay Ranch (2,900 acres) and stream and stored water rights to support an extensive snowmaking system.
Q: How will the resort be developed?
A: Ski trails have already been cut on the Maclay Ranch hillside that feeds into the proposed Village area. Bitterroot Resort will apply to the Forest Service for a special-use permit that will allow alpine and Nordic skiing on the north-facing slopes of Carlton Ridge, and in the Carlton Lake Basin area below Lolo Peak. This permit will offer the resort the unique advantage of having the greatest vertical drop (5,342 feet) in North America. The lift system in Phase I (covering approximately the first ten years of operation) will include seven four-seat chair lifts, four of which will be high-speed quads. Bitterroot's Nordic village, at the 6,000-foot level, will originate a trail system that will take advantage of approximately 40 miles of existing logging roads, interspersed with segments of new trail construction.
Development permits for the resort village will be sought from Missoula County. The four-season resort village will include shops, restaurants, lodging, meeting and convention facilities, golf courses, walking and bike paths, kids’ snow park, ice rink, a Nordic ski course, meeting and convention facilities, amphitheatre, condominiums, townhomes and single-family homesites. There are many opportunities to enhance and restore a variety of native habitats, and we will be working with a number of experts in appropriate disciplines, including wildlife, ornithology, forestry and botany to improve on our initial plans. Phases II and III allow for additional skiing on north-facing slopes between Lolo Peak and the Mill Creek drainage, and trails to the base of Lantern Ridge.
Q: Will there be enough snowfall to allow for a successful resort?
A: Bitterroot Resort will need snowmaking on the lower third of the mountain to assure a Thanksgiving opening. All U.S. destination resorts depend on snowmaking for a reliable winter season. Bitterroot Resort will install an automated snowmaking system, taking advantage of the advanced technology currently available in the industry. Bitterroot Resort is fortunate to have north-facing slopes, which are best for maintaining snow. The inversion temperatures found in the valley are also very beneficial in making early-season snow.
Q: What Federal and State approvals are necessary to build Bitterroot Resort?
A: Bitterroot Resort would be located on both private and National Forest lands and requires approvals and permits from a variety of state and federal agencies or units of government.
For the private land portion of the project, a master plan is in preparation that will identify important natural resources for preservation or enhancement and will also finalize a development plan that includes housing, golf, skiing, agriculture, open space and other uses. Initial work has begun to clear ski runs up to the 6,160-foot elevation contour which provides 2,400 feet of vertical descent on the private land portion of the project.
For the public land portion of the project, Bitterroot Resort is preparing a special-use permit application for development of alpine and cross-country skiing on Bitterroot and Lolo National Forest lands. Forest Service approval of the application is subject to the various laws and regulations pertaining to the use of National Forest lands, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In general, NEPA requires an open, public process in making federal decisions. In this case, NEPA compliance would involve preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS). A NEPA EIS requires a substantive analysis and disclosure of the environmental effects of a proposal; consideration of alternatives to the proposal; and a process of involving the public in the decision making.
The most important element in all of this is the human process of working through the environmental and other issues people care about. We’re looking at ways to open those lines of communication to anyone who wants to participate in the discussions.
Please contact us for detailed information regarding the many Federal, State and local approvals we believe will be required to initiate this project.
Q: What is the Forest Service history of this project and the status of the Bitterroot Resort proposal?
A: Since the 1960s, the Forest Service has identified Lolo Peak as a great opportunity for a National Forest-based downhill ski area.
Between 1988 and 1990, the Forest Service and Missoula leaders led a discussion of alpine skiing on Lolo Peak; that effort included a public referendum in which 63% voted in favor of creating a ski area. Later investigation determined that a ski area was not feasible at the time due to the necessity of snowmaking at lower elevations (with no access to water rights) and inadequate terrain for base facilities, which at that time were planned for the Mill Creek area.
Bitterroot Resort proponents have had discussions with current Bitterroot and Lolo Forest Service officials over the past year. The agency’s preference is to complete Forest Plan revisions prior to considering this specific project application.
Q: Can the Bitterroot Resort be competitive in the destination resort marketplace?
A: Bitterroot Resort is fortunate to have many advantages that have proven to contribute to the success of destination resorts.
1. Exciting and diverse mountain terrain
2. Modern, efficient snowmaking technology
3. Abundant land to allow for a dynamic, well-planned, all-season resort village and infrastructure
4. Excellent real estate potential to provide for mountain and village infrastructure
5. Close-in, reliable air service
6. Easy access for motor vehicles
7. Access to a diverse and well-educated work force
8. Close proximity to a university community which provides a rich diversity of entertainment, recreation, dining and culture
Q: How will the new resort affect the existing local areas?
A: Typically, a new resort energizes the local skiers and boarders and contributes to developing new participants. Bridger Bowl continued to prosper once Big Sky was developed. Jackson Hole benefits from having Grand Targhee nearby. The skiing and riding public will benefit by having nearby choices for where they recreate.
We see many opportunities to work with Snowbowl and Lost Trail to promote the region as a winter recreation destination.
Q: What are the resort's plans for providing utilities and other facilities?
A: Bitterroot Resort intends to solicit public input to help shape the programming and design of the mountain facilities. We encourage the public to be active in contributing to the crafting of the master plan. We’ve engaged some of the best experts in the nation in the preparation of initial plans; from here, we intend to do a lot of listening, and to adapt our plans wherever possible to accommodate both the concerns and the opportunities identified by the public.
In addition, our resort plans are subject to review and recommendations from the Office of Planning and Grants and public hearings before the Missoula Consolidated Planning Board and the Missoula County Commissioners. This approval may occur only upon completion of a public process, and upon a demonstration that the proposed land uses are fully considered, and mitigated, for their effect on the broader community.
Regarding specific utilities, our plans are as follows:
Sewage Disposal Our proposal is to treat effluent in a state-of-the-art treatment facility. Treated effluent will be retained in a sealed lagoon and will be used for irrigation of the landscaping, golf course or agricultural fields. The resort will not utilize sewer or water systems from the adjoining communities of Lolo or Florence.
Water Supply Water supply for domestic use will be pumped from wells on the east side of US Highway 93 in the Bitterroot Aquifer. Water will be pumped to million-gallon storage tanks above the proposed Mountain Village. The water system will provide adequate supply for domestic use and fire protection. Additional capacity can be designed into the system to extend service beyond the site.
Utilities Bitterroot Resort will obtain electrical power from the Missoula Electric Cooperative and Northwestern Energy. Northwestern Energy will supply natural gas; propane remains an option for the future. There is service capacity from existing facilities to serve the resort.
Q: How will the resort deal with the additional traffic to the base area?
A: Few resorts of this nature are blessed with a short commute via four-lane highway. Clearly, we need to plan for efficient access to Highway 93. We would expect installation of a traffic signal and turn lanes; intuitively, however, the impact on traffic is manageable since resort traffic will occur opposite that of the
current commuting pattern: from Missoula in the morning, toward Missoula in the evening.
Bitterroot Resort is working with professional transportation planners and an internationally renowned land planner to design proper, efficient and attractive circulation for cars, pedestrians and bicycles within the resort area. In fact, the goal is to almost eliminate the need for private automobiles within the resort by designing pedestrian villages and a ‘white transit’ system of interconnected ski ways and lifts. Regarding traffic to and from the resort, the vast majority of overnight visitors are expected to travel to and from the resort at non-rush-hour times.