Every autumn in Crested Butte, Colo., locals burn a wooden statue known as “The Grump.” The fiery sacrament is supposed to clear the ski town’s collective conscious and carry everyone into the ski season with a sense of hope and optimism.
There is no similar rite performed by those expanding old ski resorts or building new ones. But with only one exception in Montana, optimism among those investing in the ski industry is running high. The single downer in the bunch is Marshall Mountain, where a miserable season last winter may have permanently stopped the lifts at the Missoula institution.
Meanwhile, in Big Sky, the first new destination ski resort to open in the U.S. in nearly 20 years is preparing for its inaugural season. Moonlight Basin, which sits adjacent to the slopes of Big Sky, will offer four lifts and 1,300 acres of terrain. In Montana, two other proposed ski areas hope to follow Moonlight Basin’s lead: one on Lolo Peak outside Missoula, another near Libby (its working title is Treasure Mountain). And after shedding two previous names (Val Bois and WestRock), Tamarack Resort two hours north of Boise is officially in the works, with trails being cut and real estate headed to market.
Since the mid-1970s, Big Mountain Resort has marketed itself as a publicly traded company. That might change if shareholders approve a proposal to turn the ski area private. The resort is owned by Winter Sports Inc., which announced on Sept. 25 that new federal regulations were costing it at least $200,000 a year in stockholder-related expenses. A proposed reverse split in the stock could consolidate the company’s ownership and allow it to avoid expenses associated with the Security and Exchange Commission’s post-Enron requirements for publicly traded companies.
Unlike the stock market, the ski industry has some positive numbers to report. Last season, a record 57.6 million skier/snowboarder visits were logged at the nation’s resorts. Those crowds may turn to Montana in search of solitude, just one of the qualities attributed to Big Mountain in Ski Magazine’s tally of the top 60 resorts. This year, “The Big” placed 26th.