KALISPELL — Flat water is the Holy Grail of water skiers.
The most dedicated will be up by 5 a.m. in the summer to chase calm surfaces on lakes that will develop a chop as soon as the rest of the boating world joins them for the day, propellers pushing hulls this way and that, displacing water and bringing a quick end to the usual description — “the water was like glass” — of a perfectly still lake.
You have to understand that to understand Rosewater.
The development north of Kalispell is northwest Montana’s first water ski community.
That’s right. Just like golfers — at least those with enough money — sometimes buy homes on golf courses, and snow skiers (same criterion) sometimes buy homes near the base of ski resorts, water skiers will apparently buy lots and build homes on man-made and mostly rectangular lakes designed to serve up near-perfect water skiing conditions all day long.
Bill Tanner is counting on it.
Tanner is the developer behind Rosewater, which received final plat approval from Flathead County earlier this month. Rosewater’s two side-by-side lakes were filled with 30 million gallons of water diverted from the Whitefish River last fall.
It took two months to fill them.
Lots on the 154-acre development are now for sale, at prices ranging from $75,000, for off-water townhome sites, to $261,000.
If you think it sounds crazy, you’re (A) not a water skier, and (B) not one of the people who reserved eight of the 12 townhome lots and a dozen of the 36 waterfront lots, before they were officially on the market.
Another 10 single-family lots with lake access — but that don’t come with waterfront — are also part of the development, bringing the total number of lots in the gated community to 58.
The first lot was reserved by Greg Alsbury, a local water ski enthusiast who has been advising Tanner on technical and marketing aspects of Rosewater.
“It’s something I’ve been trying to get done in the valley for 20 years,” Alsbury says. “It’s a dream come true.”
The two man-made bodies of water — North Lake and South Lake — are each 8 feet deep, 2,300 feet long and 240 feet wide. The man-made lakebeds were covered by 1.5 million square feet of 30 mil polyethylene pond liner, which was then covered by 18 inches of dirt.
“The only water that leaves is caused by evaporation,” Tanner says.
The former agricultural property, located off Rose Crossing west of U.S. Highway 2 (about a block from the Whitefish River) came with water rights, according to Tanner.
“We’ll use less water than when it was irrigated,” he says. Pumps and fountains will circulate the water, as will the boats that use the lakes.
The lakes are separated by a narrow strip of land containing a pathway wide enough to accommodate golf carts. At the end of the 2,000-or-so-foot pathway is what is best described as an island, even though it’s not — the strip of land it’s connected to technically makes it the farthest point on an otherwise skinny peninsula.
The island-like circle of land at the end of the narrow peninsula will have beaches, a gazebo, picnic area and starting docks — on one side for North Lake, on the other for South Lake — for the water skiers. This end of the peninsula is connected to the mainland by a bridge that rises tall enough to let boats pass underneath, from one lake to the other.
Rosewater is not Montana’s first water ski community. There is one in Helena called No Wake Lake.
Otter Tail Lake south of Three Forks was also built to be a slalom ski lake, but does not include a housing development. There was also a private water ski lake built near St. Ignatius, but Tanner says that is no longer in use.
The first lake built specifically for water skiing was in Barstow, California, almost half a century ago, according to Alsbury, and there are now many, not only in warmer climates like California, Arizona and Florida, but in Washington, Oregon and Idaho as well.
Wetsuits extend the season far beyond both sides of summer in the North.
Such lakes are designed to slope up to, and be extremely shallow at, the edges. That allows waves created by boats to dissipate along the shore rather than rebounding back into the lake.
“There’s no backwash,” Tanner says. “You make your path, turn at the end of the lake and go back through smooth water. Water skiers like courses that are calm, and on public lakes like Flathead, Echo, Blaine and Whitefish, a lot of boats create a lot of waves. Now you’ve got your surf boats, too, that create humongous waves.”
Add in the fact that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks does not allow slalom courses on public lakes, Alsbury says, and you’ve created a demand for places like Rosewater.
“Flat water’s there,” Alsbury says of public lakes, “but you’ve got to get up at 5 a.m. to get it, and plan on being done by 9 a.m.”
Homeowners and their guests will be able to wakeboard on the two lakes, but not behind watercraft designed to create the large wakes those folks love to jump.
“People will be able to canoe, kayak, swim and paddleboard,” Tanner says, “and we will allow them to wakeboard, but we do not allow enhanced wakes.”
Neither will personal watercraft such as jet skis and wave runners be allowed. If you’re buying property at Rosewater, you’re coming for the water skiing.
Alsbury, who also owns a lot on No Wake Lake, has skied on more than 30 man-made lakes built specifically for the sport in the United States.
“I’ve been around these kind of lakes for 30-plus years, and I had a lot of ideas” about what worked and what didn’t, he says.
Having two lakes instead of one increases everyone’s ski time, for instance. If both lakes are being used and a third boat or more wants in on the action at the same time, they’ll all take 20-minute turns.
Size mattered, too.
“They’re a little bigger — actually, quite a bit bigger — than most,” Alsbury says of the lakes. They remain small enough that wind isn’t a huge factor.
“In a crosswind it stays flat,” Alsbury says. “As long as it isn’t blowing the length of the lakes, it’s fine — and even if it is, it still doesn’t get bad.”
Off the water, plans call for trails for biking and hiking, parks, two tennis courts, a volleyball court and 70 acres of open space. A community beach and swimming area, plus dock space for property owners who aren’t on the lake, are also a part of the plans for Rosewater.
“It’s the Iron Horse of water skiing,” Alsbury says, referring to the private golf community in nearby Whitefish.
A lawsuit filed against the county in 2013 after commissioners first granted conditional approval for the development was dismissed last year.
“There was some concern from people who thought it would be more like a race car track,” Tanner says, “but it’s nothing like that. The boats are quiet, and we don’t allow jet skis.”
Alsbury was the first to water ski at Rosewater, in October.
“It was pretty amazing,” he says.
The water was flat going down the lake, and flat coming back. It’s all a water skier asks for.
As Rosewater demonstrates, some will go to considerable lengths to get it.