Uphill skiing for Bitterroot Resort 

The last week has not been a favorable one for the Bitterroot Resort, proposed as “North America’s largest ski resort” by developer Tom Maclay, who’s seeking to augment the appeal of the golf courses and housing planned for his Bitterroot ranchlands by gaining access to about 12,000 acres of National Forest land on Lolo Peak.

Draft forest plans for the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests released May 1, and a Forest Service study of demographics, industry trends and climate data released April 27, all steepen the uphill trek facing Maclay’s plans.

Besides precluding developed recreation on Lolo Peak, the draft plan would actually expand both the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and the Carlton Research Natural Area in areas sought for use by the resort, according to Lolo spokeswoman Sharon Sweeney.

Jim Gill, Bitterroot Resort chief operating officer, says the draft forest plans’ provisions aren’t surprising, and he hopes the public will encourage the Forest Service to alter the plans to allow downhill skiing.

“We know quite often when plans come out they’re in a basic form that requires, in our case, redrafting,” says Gill, adding that the resort plans to step up its efforts during the now-underway 90-day comment period preceding the release of the final plans.

A preliminary proposal by the resort was rejected last year because the existing forest plan didn’t support downhill skiing in the area, and the resort recently resubmitted a scaled-down plan that’s still pending. The new draft plans (available at www.fs.fed.us/r1/wmpz, along with public meeting schedules) would encourage additional downhill skiing only in the area by allowing expansion of Lost Trail Powder Mountain.

That provision of the plan results in part from a Forest Service study released April 27 that analyzed the need for additional downhill skiing opportunities and found that a combination of regional demographics, ski industry trends and climate change argue against the need for and potential of a new destination resort in the area.

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