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No skiing necessary

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Since Bitterroot Resort officials sold off their fleet of snow coaches last year, much has changed. A once robust economy lies nearly dormant and potential customers of the proposed ski resort are cutting back on life’s little luxuries—like skiing.

The penny pinching prompted resort officials to shelve plans to replace the snow coach fleet until next fall, says Chief Operating Officer Jim Gill. As a net result, Gill and landowner Tom Maclay are faced with the difficult task this winter of rallying public support for the ski resort without their two most useful public outreach tools—the skiing and the resort. In previous winters, groups were invited onto Maclay’s land for a preview of the recreation opportunities the resort could offer.

If you ask Gill, this is a moot point. He claims public support stands firmly in the resort’s corner.

“The amount of support we’ve been getting, especially in these economic times, has been really heartwarming,” he says, noting that more than 3,000 people have signed a petition supporting the proposal. “People understand that the amount of jobs we’re going to be bringing to the community is just what we need right now.”

That viewpoint contrasts sharply with that of Friends of Lolo Peak. The organization claims more than 4,000 people have signed a different petition to protect the public land where Maclay wants to set part of the resort.

Regardless of the petitions, Gill says resort officials have decided to devote the winter to hopping the hurdles that stand in the way of the U.S. Forest Service’s special use permit needed to access that public land.

One prerequisite is that Maclay’s proposal must be financially feasible. Dan Ritter, a district ranger of the Bitterroot National Forest, says officials at the U.S. Forest Service’s accounting office in Albuquerque, N.M. will ultimately make that decision, but Maclay and Gill have yet to submit anything to that office. Until that happens, the resort’s financial plan will remain a secret.

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