Mountain High 

Living in Missoula makes it easy to feel good about being a conservation-minded outdoor adventurer. Within a reasonable drive we’ve got endless mountains to climb, dozens of creeks and rivers to fish and no shortage of trails to bike, ski or run. We’ve even got blue sky this winter, for better and/or worse, and the forgiving, springlike “ego snow” blanketing ski areas’ upper runs is creamy enough to make us feel like we’re all great skiers. We’re all one big happy family, right?

Well, not exactly. Tom Maclay’s vision of a major ski resort on Lolo Peak poses significant and tangible challenges for many green-principled individuals looking to live the environmentally aware but active outdoorsy life. On the one hand, opening up more nearby powder shots with lifts directly to the summit of the highest peak visible from town can sound like a gift from heaven. On the other hand, compromising the wild characteristics of Missoula’s backyard Bitterroots in order to host a “world class” resort causes many to worry about wildlife habitat, increased cost of living, traffic congestion and, ultimately, degradation of our famed Big Sky quality of life.

But regardless of whether you’ve formed an opinion about the Bitterroot Resort proposed for our side of Lolo Peak, the idea isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. And a similar (and perhaps instructive) development is currently underway in south-central Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Developers there hope to build “The Village at Wolf Creek,” preemptively billed as the largest ski resort village in the Centennial State.

Ten thousand people would fill the nearly 3,000 hotel rooms and condos built in a two-mile-high alpine meadow adjacent to the already-existing Wolf Creek Ski Area. But since the project would be developed on a privately held inholding, the Forest Service is required to allow construction of a road through its surrounding domain.

The details in Lolo are different, and we’ll have to see how it plays out, but as it stands, the idea of a new resort on Lolo has people lining up to create a new—or defend an old—vision for the Bitterroots.

In other news, The New York Times reports that the Bush administration’s eagerness to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge surpasses even that of the petroleum industry.

According to the Times, “The major oil companies are largely uninterested in drilling in the refuge [and] skeptical about the potential there.” Despite the volatility of the issue, only one test well has been sunk, and according to the Times the results are, oddly, one of the industry’s “most closely guarded secrets.”

Rock climbing skills are no secret, although acquiring the skills required to be a “leader”—getting up above your protection and risking bodily injury—can be daunting. But if you’re already dialed out on the fundamentals of rock craft and eager to start working the sharp end of the rope, head to UM’s climbing wall March 10 from 5 to 9 p.m. “Leading and Beyond” takes qualified followers and turns them into leaders through instruction on the basics of how to belay leaders, lead sport climbs, find (and clean) routes, and interpret (often quirky) climbing guidebooks. Cost is $10, about the price of a carabiner and a lot less than an ambulance. Take the lead by calling Campus Recreation at 243-5172.

The calendar might say it’s March, but ultimate disc junkies at UM’s Campus Recreation are feeling the sunshine and ready to get the game going. Weekday play begins on March 14, with rosters due at noon on the 9th, so start doing sprints and get your team together pronto! Games begin as early as 4 p.m., but call Campus Rec. (243-2804) for more info.

Alpinists with an eye for Africa should catch the Rocky Mountaineers’ meeting at Pipestone Mountaineering March 9 at 7 p.m., when Ron Pierson presents a DVD show on his trip to Kilimanjaro. Free and open to the public.

The Rocky Mountaineers have their sites on Lolo Pass for a beginner/intermediate ski day March 6, and they want you to come along. Julie (Warner) Kahl will be leading, so call her at 543-6508 to organize.

Backcountry junkies know that excellent summerlike skiing potential does exist high in the alpine, and you can join Sierra Clubber Margot Higgins on a full-day jaunt into the Great Burn March 6. This 11-mile skin/hike(?)/ski will enter the Burn at the South Fork of Trout Creek and head up to the stunning Heart Lake. This gem is an illegal-yet-popular area for snowmobilers, and the group will be looking for signs of motorized violations within the Great Burn closure area en route. Great views, animal tracks and raccoon tans are all on the agenda, so get in touch with trip leader Higgins at 543-0702 or to make it so.

Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA) is offering a spring break trip to Moab for middle- and high-schoolers. Youth-oriented outdoor education superstar Porter Hammitt will pack five full days with hikes in Arches National Park, a float on the Colorado River, a climbing adventure on desert sandstone and mountain biking on slickrock trails. The trip runs March 20–26, and $265 scores participants experienced guides, transportation, equipment, food, campsites and—not inconsequentially—a week away from the folks. Space is limited, so register today by calling MOLA at 240-2458 or logging on to

No new precipitation is reported at any of the region’s ski resorts, and bases range from two to five feet. Keep in mind that all reports should be viewed as optimistic at this point, so call ahead before heading up, and bring the rock skis.

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