By Sherry Devlin/Missoula Current
The U.S. Forest Service on Friday announced approval of the near-doubling of Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area, on the Montana-Idaho border off Interstate 90.
The decision increases Lookout’s special use permit area from 538 acres to 1,023 acres, and includes about 100 acres of new ski terrain (groomed and gladed), the installation of two new chairlifts adding 1,650 feet of vertical drop, upgrading an existing chairlift, new guest service and maintenance buildings, and 130 more parking spaces.
Work is expected to begin this summer.
The decision gives the go-ahead to Phase One of a multi-phase, 20-year expansion proposed for Lookout Pass, which operates on national forest lands via a special use permit. Future phases will require separate review and approval of the Forest Service.
Friday’s announcement came from Lolo National Forest Supervisor Tim Garcia and Idaho Panhandle National Forest Supervisor Mary Farnsworth, as the ski area straddles not only the state line but two national forests.
Phil Edholm, president and CEO of Lookout Pass, was pleased to see the three-year review and decision process come to an end.
“I am thrilled to initiate the expansion of skiable terrain and additional facilities for the enjoyment of our skiing and riding guests,” he said in a written release.
Garcia and Farnsworth said the expansion provides an opportunity to build upon the overall public recreation experience at Lookout Pass, contribute economically to local communities, and meets the Forest Service’s goals to provide a diverse range of developed recreation opportunities for the public.
The expansion review process began in early 2014 and included an environmental analysis and the opportunity for public comment under the National Environmental Policy Act, according to the Forest Service.
Two objections were received, focused largely on user conflicts and on dispersed winter recreation (both motorized and non-motorized) in the St. Regis Basin and larger Stevens Peak backcountry area.
After review of the objections, the forest supervisors added new language about the cumulative effects of the expansion and organized a meeting to discuss long-term winter recreation use in the area.
The 20-year expansion vision for Lookout Pass ultimately would increase lift-served terrain by about 2,000 acres, according to the ski area.
“Our master plan includes opening two additional 6,200-foot peaks west-southwest of the existing ski area that stand as the gateway to the St. Regis Basin,” the ski area’s owners explained in a message on their website. “The concept includes a new 20,000-square-foot lodge on what is currently the backside of the ski area. “The existing lodge – the oldest continuously operating ski lodge in Idaho – will continue to offer full services.”
Phase Two, which is not yet approved, includes a new lodge and parking at the base of the second additional peak, covering about 30 acres. That new base area will be accessed by Exit 0 on Interstate 90, as is the current base area. Rather than turn right into the existing lot, skiers will turn left and drive down Highway 10, the route over Lookout Pass before the interstate was built. The new area is about a mile down that road.