Ten years after Montana Snowbowl’s owners formally submitted a plan to almost double in size, improve amenities and add lifts and runs, the ski area has finally received formal approval to proceed. The U.S. Forest Service, which leases land to Snowbowl through a special use permit, signed a Record of Decision on May 1 and announced the news this morning.
“It’s good,” says co-owner Brad Morris. “We’ve spent a lot of time and money on it. It’s kind of the official sign-off, so it’s not a huge surprise.”
With the sign-off, Morris can now turn his attention to doubling Snowbowl’s number of lifts from four to eight, increasing its ski runs from 52 to 80, expanding its footprint from 1,138 acres to 2,243, and improving the resort’s infrastructure to accommodate all the expected new visitors. Doing so will take, he estimates, another 10 years. The first step, though, is simple.
“The first thing we’d do,” says Morris, “is start surveying for a lift. ... Hopefully we’re gonna do that this summer. That would get us all set to go.”
After surveying, Morris will purchase a lift to climb the west side of TV Mountain, which lies just west of the existing ski area and is named for a host of broadcasting and microwave facilities on its peak. With that one lift, skiers will be able to access all of TV Mountain’s terrain.
Over time, however, three more lifts will be built on the mountain and increase the resort’s beginner and intermediate skiing options. One lift will allow access from the resort’s base. A second will allow skiers to move between TV Mountain’s north side and the existing ski area. A third lift will be built on the relatively flat top of the mountain to allow for beginner skiing. Morris also expects to build a new lodge on TV Mountain.
Even with the Forest Service’s approval of the expansion plan, Snowbowl will have to meet substantial regulatory obligations as it proceeds. Before any new runs can be cleared, for example, the trees will have to be appraised by the Forest Service and sold. That’s just another step in a process Morris cautions will continue to take some time. Asked if skiers will see anything new when ski season opens this fall, Morris isn’t optimistic. “Given the amount of lead time that the Forest Service needs and we need,” he says, “it would be unlikely.”