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Yellowstone Club

Yellowstone Club

Mountain Life
By Kendall Hamilton
posted: 09/18/2001

Warren Miller had been trying to get me to visit the ultra-exclusive Yellowstone Club ever since he sold his home in Vail, Colo., two seasons ago and moved to Montana to become the club's director of skiing. "Just spend one day here and it will change how you think about skiing forever," Warren promised. I wasn't taking the bait. The price of admission is well beyond what most of SKI's readers could ever afford. Even the U.S. Senate has more members than the Yellowstone Club, where the initiation fee alone is $250,000 and prospective members at first were expected to have at least $3 million in liquid assets-a lot of Dom Perignon.

Then other business intervened. SKI's parent company bought the Warren Miller film tour, and I needed to meet face-to-face with Warren. We agreed to do it in Montana during a few days of skiing, with one caveat: "Warren, I am not writing about the Yellowstone Club."

With Warren at the wheel, we take a left-hand turn off the access road to Big Sky, pass a small gatehouse and begin to take in this 13,400-acre private paradise, where timber baron Tim Blixseth has already invested a small fortune. The parcel is framed by Big Sky's towering Lone Mountain, the Gallatin range and magnificent wilderness. We drive past two large houses under construction, the first belonging to champion golfer Tom Weiskopf, who is designing an 18-hole course here that will open for play in 2002, and the second to cycling legend Greg LeMond. While the housing component of the Yellowstone Club is a work in progress-there are just two completed homes and 24 under construction-the ski area is most certainly ready for guests.

We park a few feet away from the cozy, informal Buffalo Bar & Grill, boot up and climb on the high-speed Lodge Lift. It is President's Weekend, and at Big Sky the locals are complaining loudly about liftlines. At the Yellowstone Club, there may be two dozen skiers, tops. The previous week, the mountain's five lifts and three restaurants were fully staffed to serve all of its on-site members, which consisted of a woman from Greenwich, Conn., and her two kids.

The Yellowstone Club is everything I'd imagined. The twisting trails of the lower mountain are meticulously groomed and, as Warren notes, they are comparable to Big Burn at Snowmass or Vail's Lionshead-without all the people. As we ski down to the high-speed Lake Lift, I can't help noticing all the fresh powder still lining the groomed slopes, though it hasn't snowed for five days. We let our skis run on the last steep section of Dream Catcher and head into the lift terminal at an extremely high rate of speed. There are no mazes at the Yellowstone Club, so there really is no reason to slow down.

On the way up, Warren explains how many thousands of cubic yards of earth were moved on this slope to make the fall line ski just right, a degree of sculpting that would be nearly impossible at a mountain on U.S. Forest Service land, where such a proposal would raise the hackles of a handful of federal agencies. Warren pulls out a trail map at the summit and we view it upside down: In response to one of the filmmaker's pet peeves, the Yellowstone Club has printed trail names right side up and upside down.

"If you're on the mountain, hold the map this way," it advises. The trails include Quarterback Sneak, named for club member and ex-NFL star Jack Kemp, who was also a congressman, and EBITDA, the Wall Street corporate term that refers to "earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization." EBITDA is top-of-mind for managers at North America's publicly traded ski resorts, but here it's merely a reminder of another world.

Lunch is at the mid-mountain Timberline Café, where it is extremely difficult to decide which is superior: the views, ambience, service or food. Warren is still recovering from a badly broken leg and is sticking mostly to the groomed, so after lunch I hook up with Brandy Miller, the Yellowstone Club's PR manager, ande ride the Mountain Lift to the 9,860-foot summit of Pioneer. I'd had dinner with Brandy two months earlier in Vail, and I recalled her as being soft-spoken, professional and petite-an ideal spokesperson for the Yellowstone Club. It turns out she comes from a Montana family with deep roots in the National Park Service, took a liking to firearms at the age of 5 and spent large amounts of her youth prowling the backcountry of Yellowstone and the wild terrain of Bridger Bowl, where she was a strong junior racer. And it turns out that I'm about to be introduced to another side of the Yellowstone Club, too.

Soon I am trying to keep up with Brandy as she charges down the 40- and 45-degree chutes off Pioneer, runs such as Stein's, Elevator Shaft and Hourglass-all legitimate double blacks. We also tackle the backside of Pioneer, which offers even more variety and a lot of untracked snow. It occurs to me that not only am I skiing in 12 inches of powdery, untouched snow that fell five days ago, but I am in terrain that has never even been skied. This is the reality at a mountain with 2,000 skiable acres and roughly that number of annual skier visits-what Vail does before lunch on a slow Wednesday. My first impression of Yellowstone-skiing on creamy corduroy-only tells part of the story. The real draw is the heli-like powder experience available almost seven days a week.

Riding up the Lake Lift with Yellowstone Mountain Manager Jon Reveal, a former pro racer, Everest climber and ex-GM at Arapahoe Basin and Aspen Mountain, he tells me that his peers all joke that he won the "Super Bowl of mountain managers." He also explains how Yellowstone's five chairs, including three high-speed quads, aren't enough. This summer the resort added three new chairs, which in itself qualifies it as arguably the most ambitious expansion in North America this season. Better yet, with access to Andesite Mountain, club members now will be able to ski to Big Sky and back. At buildout, Yellowstone itself will offer a gondola and a dozen chairs serving its 2,760-foot vertical drop and 4,000 acres of terrain.

So what's it all cost? At first blush, the price of entry seems exorbitant. The initiation fee is $250,000, annual dues are $16,000 and a full-on trophy home will add at least another $2 million or $3 million.

Then again, have you looked at the price of real estate in Vail, Aspen or Sun Valley lately? A condo at the base of Vail recently sold for $5 million; the average sale price of a single-family home in Aspen is $3.4 million-plus, and a Sun Valley home is listed for $14 million. And those investments don't include unlimited lift tickets and golf for every member of your immediate family-plus carte blanche use of Yellowstone's other amenities, including groomed cross-country skiing, ice skating, 16 miles of private trout streams, horseback riding, swimming, a spa/health center and tennis courts.

And here's the kicker: the club has just put up about 20 condominiums for sale in the Warren Miller Lodge, which will be patterned after Awahnee, the National Park hotel in Yellowstone, and will be the centerpiece of a small village. Prices start at $795,000, which means you can live at the world's best private ski resort for about $1 million, the cost of a medium-sized condo at the base of Beaver Creek.

You can't just show up at the Yellowstone Club unannounced. The club employs an arduous financial-review process that has turned some potential members off. It has also worked hard to recruit members who are not impressed with their own wealth or accomplishments, and to snuff out elitism: One prospective member, I'm told, was turned down because a member of his family was rude to the staff.

Currently, the club houses prospective members in 16 cabins that are adjacent to the Rainbow Lodge, which includes a restaurant, bar and heated pool. At buildout in 10 years, Yellowstone will have roughly 875 members and their families; their homes will take up 2,000 acres, leaving another 11,400 as open space. There will be plenty of interesting people for skiing and socializing, but never too many. As other ski towns build more condos, fast-food franchises and parking lots, the pristine setting of the Yellowstone Club will appreciate in value. After spending a weekend there, it now sounds less like an impossibly exclusive club and more like a wise investment for a family's future. It certainly is not cheap, but for many it can be a value, especially if you love to ski untracked powder.As usual, Warren was right.

The Yellowstone Club is featured in the 2001 Warren Miller film Cold Fusion, coming to theaters near you in October and November. For a schedule, go to warrenmiller.com.
For more information on the Yellowstone Club, go to www.theyellowstoneclub.com, or call 888-700-7748.ake up 2,000 acres, leaving another 11,400 as open space. There will be plenty of interesting people for skiing and socializing, but never too many. As other ski towns build more condos, fast-food franchises and parking lots, the pristine setting of the Yellowstone Club will appreciate in value. After spending a weekend there, it now sounds less like an impossibly exclusive club and more like a wise investment for a family's future. It certainly is not cheap, but for many it can be a value, especially if you love to ski untracked powder.As usual, Warren was right.

The Yellowstone Club is featured in the 2001 Warren Miller film Cold Fusion, coming to theaters near you in October and November. For a schedule, go to warrenmiller.com.
For more information on the Yellowstone Club, go to www.theyellowstoneclub.com, or call 888-700-7748.

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