Missoula Story of the Week: Bitterroot Ski Resort


For decades, Missoulians have looked to the snow-capped peak southwest of town wondering what it would be like if a ski resort was located on it.

Rumors about a ski area on Lolo Peak have circulated about as long as people have been getting excited over the prospect of a Red Lobster opening in Missoula. However, the promise of reasonably priced seafood probably would not have garnered as much controversy as Tom Maclay’s proposed Bitteroot Resort.

Seven years after Tom Maclay cut ski runs into the hillside below Lolo Peak, his family’s ranch and dream of the Bitteroot Resort are in financial trouble.

According to a KECI news story, “[Maclay] took out a $20 million loan to fund the project, but ran into financial trouble when the Forest Service wouldn’t grant access to the land, and the ranch fell into foreclosure last summer.”

The success of the resort likely depends on Maclay’s ability to gain access to public land. Despite the looming auction of the ranch scheduled for next week, NBC Montana reports that Maclay remains optimistic that he can find enough investors to buy back the land within the special right of redemption period.

While Tom Maclay is not ready to give up on the resort, the Friends for Lolo Peak (a group that has publicly opposed Maclay’s plan) see the resort’s possible failure as a victory.

Will Lolo Peak become home to a ski resort?

According to another NBC Montana news article, last summer group member Steve Seninger stated that, “it would be inappropriate to destroy the very natural state of those wonderful public lands up there for a ski resort, which now we find was from the get-go really all about real estate.”

The group has implied the resort’s projected financial success is based on real-estate sales. The Friends of Lolo Peak website reminds readers that, “other developments of this size are owned and operated by large ski industry corporations who maintain their massive bottom-lines with real estate ventures.”

However, it is unlikely the sale of Maclay’s ranch will leave the area undeveloped.

According to the Florence Carlton Review, “the terms of McLean’s [the judge who ordered the sale] order, the property must be sold in a single parcel, but plat maps show the property is already significantly divided. That means a buyer could take a piecemeal approach to developing the property.”

The size and scope of the property also suggests that prospective buyers will be looking at the purchase as a financial investment.

Taking into account the alternatives for the Maclay ranch, the resort has its supporters. Abe Abramson, a longtime Missoula real estate agent, stated in the Florence Carlton Review article that he sees the resort as a viable solution that would create a “perfect buffer to the wilderness area.”

Abramson reminds opponents of the project that “it’s no longer financially viable to raise cattle up there”, suggesting real-estate development is coming to the property no matter what outcome the auction brings.


Each week, Tom Diddel recaps the most talked-about stories in Missoula. Visit the Make it Missoula News & Opinion section for more talk of the town.


Tom Diddel has lived in Missoula on and off for nearly thirty-eight years. He enjoys skiing, hiking, and many other outdoor activities. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Montana and is currently working as a Freelance Writer and a Para-Educator.