Maclay releases 3rd plan for Lolo Peak ski resort

2013-07-08T21:15:00Z 2014-03-25T18:14:20Z Maclay releases 3rd plan for Lolo Peak ski resort

Just days before he’d have to go to court to protect the details of a new Bitterroot Resort ski area plan, Tom Maclay decided to release the proposal to the public himself.

The 20-page document gives rough details for “the development of an alpine skiing, Nordic skiing and snowboarding public resort” in the high-altitude Carlton Lakes basin south of Lolo Peak. The U.S. Forest Service has twice before rejected Maclay’s plans for building a ski resort there.

“The big difference in this one is it’s all on national forest land,” Stevensville District Ranger Dan Ritter said Monday. “It’s also got some different configurations of proposed lodges in different places. And it doesn’t propose any modifications in the Carlton Resource Natural Area.”

Maclay’s previous designs used his family’s 3,000-acre ranch below the Carlton Lakes basin as a base area. Earlier versions also infringed on the resource natural area, which is off-limits to commercial activity.

The project went into foreclosure in 2009, and financer Metropolitan Life Agricultural Investments took over the whole 3,000-acre Maclay family ranch at a sheriff’s sale in 2012. Met Life took the deed on Feb. 27.

Maclay submitted the new plan as the managing member of a limited liability company called Special Use Permit for Public Resort Benefits, or SUPPRB. Maclay is the only principal listed under the company’s incorporation filing with the state of Montana.

Maclay and his spokesman Tim Newhart declined to discuss the latest proposal, and initially resisted making it public at all when they submitted it to the Stevensville Ranger District on May 24. The Ravalli Republic newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see the proposal, and Maclay had until July 10 to go to court for further protection.

“I think the document speaks for itself,” Newhart said Monday. “It’s pretty concise.”

Newhart also declined to say where Maclay was living. His home on the edge of the proposed resort was included in the foreclosure order. On his application, Maclay listed his 17000 Old Highway 93 address in Florence as a street address, but offered a post office box in Lolo as his mailing address.


The proposal states the resort base area would be on Bitterroot National Forest property reached by the McClain Creek Road, also known as Forest Road 1311. This road passes through Maclay’s former property, including the ski trails visible on the slopes west of U.S. Highway 93.

“From a parking area, skiers would be shuttled to the Mountain Base Area using frequently departing bus shuttle service, similar to the systems long used at such major resorts as Breckenridge and Mammoth Mountain,” the proposal stated. It suggests five construction phases, with all ski lifts getting built on Bitterroot or Lolo national forest lands.

Ritter said the plan is going through the Forest Service’s nine-question initial screening process to see if it’s worthy of greater attention. The questions check if the proposal is consistent with federal laws and regulations; meets standards of the forest plans governing the Bitterroot and Lolo national forests; doesn’t conflict with other uses of the area; and avoids gambling, sexually oriented commercial services, paramilitary training exercises, or the disposal of garbage or hazardous substances.

“It’s a coarse filter to make sure it is worth going forward to use taxpayer dollars for further analysis,” Ritter said of the initial screening. The Forest Service agreed to the screening on June 26, and has 60 days to complete that process.

A second screening would look at the plan’s financial and technical capabilities. If it passes both those reviews, the Forest Service would begin a full National Environmental Policy Act review, including public comment.

Maclay’s plan calls for a day lodge and restaurant in a “natural clearing near an existing road at an elevation of 8,250 feet” near Carlton Ridge. That’s where the ideal snow on the mountain accumulates, according to the report. It would make the Bitterroot Resort “a first choice for family vacations due to the earliest openings and longest seasons.”

Additional phases might bring a high-speed gondola near Lolo Creek, and additional “guest conveniences” at Mill Creek, Lantern Ridge and Carlton Ridge.

In the plan’s introduction, Maclay claimed Forest Service officials had been considering a ski resort for the area since the 1960s. In addition to the winter sports, the plan envisioned a summer season when hikers could access the lodge from Mormon Peak Road.

“This proposal takes into account the long history of off-road vehicle use on Carlton Ridge,” the plan stated. “It is unlikely that skiing or hiking in this area will have impacts beyond the historic use.”

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(13) Comments

  1. Roger
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    Roger - July 10, 2013 7:13 am
    The area lacks what's required for a viable ski resort - not enough vertical for example, and those "ski runs" he cut out apparently are on a slope that would require snow-making, and evidently there's not enough water there to facilitate that.
  2. MTminded
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    MTminded - July 10, 2013 7:11 am
    The most casual observations from the valley floor these past few winters are ample evidence the "stretch marks" Maclay has carved onto the hillsides do not carry enough snow for skiing.
    Maclay again (and again) attempts to sell his idea of a ski resort but overlooks one key aspect to skiing..the requirement of sufficient snow.
  3. Michael Jordan
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    Michael Jordan - July 09, 2013 5:16 pm
    Thanks for addressing my questions. I am getting the understanding that the opposition to this project has an ongoing disgruntlement towards Maclay himself and his approach to achieving his goal regardless of what plan he may provide. If the investor(s) were more likable and provided a long term financing for this project (20-30 years), provided an environmental study of the effects this resort could have (long term), would the opposition be more open to resort on Lolo Peak that investors believe to have devised a plan to be profitable (resulting in limited taxing involvement) or is the overall opinion in general flat-out No Resort On Lolo Period regardless of the potential bright outlook it may be projected?
    Note: I assume that if the project was a high risk for profitability then this plan would not even be considered or looked at.
  4. nwwt
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    nwwt - July 09, 2013 2:37 pm
    I love skiing as much as life itself, and wouldn't oppose a feasible alternative to the area's skiing options. I'm a conservationist, but am open to mindful, well thought-out development. I don't find Lolo peak to be pristine, but do recognize that sensitive species like endemic alpine larch deserve special consideration. Here's why it would fail:

    Ski resorts lose money on skiing operations. It's just not going to fund itself with ticket sales, so Maclay must have something else up his sleeve, maybe to show the creditors that he can make the land assets under foreclosure more valuable than it is now. Maybe it's to buy time. This plan is a tactical play with some other unknown goal in mind. BUT, since the proposal isn't accessible in its entirety, we can't really say whether or not it would work.

    Maclay has demonstrated ineptitude up till now, has surrounded himself (paying a salary, of course) with yes-men who have failed to deliver, and the whole venture has displayed such fiscal negligence that it won't find capital on the kind of terms he needs.

    Big Sky and Whitefish are established, and while record skier days are a nice metric to point to, they don't really indicate financial fitness. The cost of building on Lolo Peak would require tourism-derived revenue, which would require the place to be outstanding. The skiing on Lolo peak's greatest asset is that it could only approach outstanding for beginners and intermediates, and other ski resort towns already have all the amenities for beginner/intermediate skiers.

    As a skier, I would love to be wrong and have another local ski area. But I would be a fool to let that bias how I see a plan that's not fundamentally feasible. Bad ski area development is bad for the sport, and bad for the taxpaying public.
  5. 5GenerationMTN
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    5GenerationMTN - July 09, 2013 1:29 pm
    You've already raped the side of a mountain - an ugly scar that strikes our vision at every glance. Why can't you just let the land be?
  6. Michael Jordan
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    Michael Jordan - July 09, 2013 1:08 pm
    Questions for the resort opposition, outside of environmental impacts, how would an additional ski resort in the area be "a bad idea" and/or why "would it fail" when Big Sky Resort and Whitefish both have recorded record number of attendants in the past few years?
    Note: I understand that his proposed resort resides on public land....
  7. Rabbit-brush
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    Rabbit-brush - July 09, 2013 11:56 am
    "Maclay claimed Forest Service officials had been considering a ski resort for the area since the 1960s." I believe the word "since" is used in error.

    The area up there on Carlton Ridge, Carlton Lake, Lolo Peak & surroundings is wild, remote, and serene. It backs right up to the Wilderness boundary. It's home to countless native wild animal species (the wolverine is up for ESA listing) and is suitable lynx habitat and a griz recovery area. It's THEIR land first, and the citizens' land second. This man, in plotting out his personal get-rich scheme, is tying up Forest Svc. time and taxpayer money in his self-centered bid to make a killing (so he imagines) off of OUR land.
  8. BJG1
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    BJG1 - July 09, 2013 11:11 am
    What Tom doesn't get is this is PUBLIC LANDS not his.
  9. BJG1
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    BJG1 - July 09, 2013 11:10 am
    If Tom McClay thinks that a better job for your kids is cleaning toilets, and changing sheets for skiers who visit his resort is bringing good jobs to the Bitterroot he should think twice. This has always been a bad idea......right from the start.
  10. rootbit
    Report Abuse
    rootbit - July 09, 2013 10:02 am
    I hope the ranger station actually allows this proposal to go through the initial stages this time. It's very disconcerting that FS keeps blocking what could be a nice economic boon for the Bitterroot. SnowB. is always packed these days and the valley could use another ski hill to alleviate congestion with new slopes on better facing aspects to hold snow.

    Glad Tom has the steel to keep dealing with the FS and adjusting to their demands. 3rd time's the charm!
  11. Michael Jordan
    Report Abuse
    Michael Jordan - July 09, 2013 10:00 am
    This plan for a ski resort looks awesome! I hope it happens!
  12. Re-Made in Montana
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    Re-Made in Montana - July 09, 2013 7:45 am
    The man was handed the long held family ranch on a silver platter to hold and manage for the Maclays that would come after him. He squandered that with reckless abandon. Why on Earth would anyone think he has the ability to manage a project such as this. Hey Tom, go dig Met Life's money out of your back yard and get lost. Or better yet, give it to your poor parents living in squalor on the little piece of property they have left thanks to you.
  13. piedpiper
    Report Abuse
    piedpiper - July 09, 2013 7:39 am
    Some people can just not accept being told no. Is this guy out of money yet? Can we stop beating this dead horse?
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