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  Comments (0) Total Wednesday Apr. 23, 2014
Working at the Club
Lurching from one near disaster to another...
I have never turned down the infrequent offer of a free ride in a private jet.

Laurie and I were living in Vail and enjoying the good life of skiing every day, often with our friends Jack and Joanne Kemp.

Jack had introduced me to someone with a wild idea to build a private ski resort in the Montana wilderness.

Tim Blixseth was the idea man, Jack Kemp was the contact man and I brought Jon Reveal along, the best ski resort designer and operations guy I knew.

The flight from Vail to Bozeman was short and the drive along the Gallatin River was beautiful. I had no idea at the time that this free one-day trip would change Laurie’s and my life forever.

I had retired from making ski movies and had settled down into a life of writing stories and illustrating for the fun.

Soon after the SUV turned off the Gallatin River Highway, Lone Peak, home of the Big Sky ski resort, reached toward the sky with its 4,200 vertical feet of skiing that is still one of the best kept secrets in American skiing today.

Ten minutes later, we stopped alongside a helicopter with its turbine already warmed up and spinning slowly on idle. The four of us would be the only people skiing on Pioneer Peak on this sunny spring day. And what a day it would become.

Tim had already cut a couple of trails on his mountain that he had groomed for us, but the upper half of the mountain is too steep to groom and so we had a great day of skiing in powder snow, while deciding whether this would be a good mountain for a private ski resort.

Tim had acquired the 14,000 acres of land in timber swaps. Jon Reveal had been the mountain manager at Keystone and then Aspen, so he brought a world of desperately needed important knowledge to the table.

Jack Kemp, after serving as congressman from Buffalo for 16 years, brought his Washington, D.C. contacts to the table and all I brought about 50 years of movies and apparently a reputation for turning people on to skiing.

To me, the mountain seemed as though it had been specially designed for skiers and snowboarders of all abilities. The upper half is steeper than the cornice at Mammoth and the lower half is gentle, just like Snowmass at Aspen.

But a private ski resort? One of this scale had never been built before. It was scheduled to cost $250,000 just to join and then you had to buy a vacant lot scheduled to start at $2 million.

I thought those numbers would make a very, very small market of customers.

I signed on as the director of skiing at the Yellowstone Club and spent the next 13 years skiing on the mountain. With five quad chairlifts and 16 other assorted lifts to ride, it would be five years before we had 100 people on the hill at the same time. One of my favorite times was when Mary Macdonald was the only member there for three days. Bright sunshine and six inches of powder snow just for us. Every time a lift operator saw us coming, they would start the lift and when we got off at the top they would shut it off again.

Just like most startup companies, the club has had its ups and downs and today has more than 400 members, 300 homes and 140,000-square-foot lodge.

Since the first time I skied there in 1997 I have had only one bad day and that was when I was traversing, stepped out of a binding and broke my back. At least the accident provided me with a lot more time to work on my autobiography since I couldn’t ski every day.

Hey, you learn to make do with what you have left and the Yellowstone Club is our home four months of the year. A pretty good place to enjoy what I have left.
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