Hans Castren, a recreation specialist for the U.S. Forest Service, described the proposed changes to Whitefish Mountain Resort’s Hellroaring Basin area as the most significant improvements project during his eight years as the ski area’s permit administrator.
Plans include relocating the Chair 8/Hellroaring chairlift, creating gladed areas and adding a second chairlift to Hellroaring Peak.
“This is probably the single biggest and most complex project I’ve handled for the resort,” Castren said.
Much of the Whitefish Mountain Resort’s ski slopes are on Forest Service land. The resort has submitted plans for the Hellroaring Basin enhancements to the Tally Lake District of the Flathead National Forest, which will conduct an environmental analysis of the proposal.
The Forest Service, which said the Hellroaring Basin Improvements Project is intended to “enhance the skiing experience in the Hellroaring Basin area,” seeks public input on the proposal.
According to a news release from the resort, the project would help open the Hellroaring Basin earlier in the season because of the proposed chairlift locations. It would provide better access to the basin’s terrain, add defined groomed runs and provide more intermediate terrain for skiers and snowboarders, the resort said.
Specific proposals include, but are not limited to:
• Move the Hellroaring chair to carry riders from the Grand Junction area to the intersection of the Toni Matt and Big Ravine ski runs above the snow making ponds, allowing skiers to access more areas on the front side of the mountain including Big Ravine, Toni Matt and Ptarmigan Bowl as well as access back into Hellroaring Basin. The resort says moving the chairlift also would eliminate the long outrun from Grand Junction to the bottom of Hellroaring Basin as well alleviate congestion on the lower section of the Hell Fire run.
• Installing an additional chairlift from Grand Junction the top of Hellroaring Peak, as well as two runs on the west and east ridges. Additionally, a cat track is proposed to provide access from Hellroaring Peak to the Gray Wolf ski run on the north side of the mountain.
• Adding groomable runs, making the Hellroaring area accessible to more skiers and snowboarders. A service road would be built from the top of Chair 2 to Grand Junction providing additional skier access into Hellroaring Basin as well as an evacuation route for injured skiers.
All proposed plans are within the existing permit boundary for Whitefish Mountain Resort, which will pay for the Forest Service’s environmental analysis and the improvements, if they’re approved.
Riley Polumbus, a spokeswoman for the resort, said that given that the plans for the improvements have just recently been submitted there isn’t an estimate yet of what the project might ultimately cost.
Dan Graves, CEO of Whitefish Mountain Resort, said the resort is excited about starting the process that could yield enhancements in Hellroaring Basin.
“The Hellroaring Basin improvement project will increase access, and add improved slope variety in Hellroaring Basin,” Graves said. “Additionally, relocating the Hellroaring chairlift would allow riders to access more terrain than its current location therefore creating better flow around the mountain.”
Hellroaring Basin first opened to skiers in the 1996/97 ski season. In 1997 the Hellroaring Chairlift/Chair 8 was moved to Hellroaring Basin. Hell Fire has been the only intermediate-level run in Hellroaring Basin.
The Forest Service said the improvements would be completed between June and November over a three-year period that might be non-consecutive. Construction would require the use of helicopters and heavy equipment. Tree felling would be completed by machines where feasible and hand felling would occur elsewhere, the Forest Service said.
The resort said no timeline has been set and won’t be until after receiving direction and any approvals from the Forest Service.
For additional information about the proposal, go to www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=55012
Comments can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or sent to Tally Lake Ranger District, Attn: Hellroaring Basin Improvements Project, 650 Wolfpack Way, Kalispell, MT 59901.
The Forest Service said site-specific comments received by November 20 “are the most helpful in project development.”
Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at email@example.com or 758-4407.