January 2, 2012 Posted by Emily in Business, Local, News, Regional
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Top 10 stories from 2011

While compiling this list, the Big Sky Weekly editors asked prominent community members what they thought were the most influential and memorable stories of 2011. The overarching theme was continued economic and community growth in the face of adversity.

“We made great strides this year with bringing the community together around big plans and common goals,” said Ryan Hamilton, project manager for the Big Sky Town Center.

Taylor Middleton, Big Sky Resort’s general manager, echoed this. He said hosting the APEC conference was an honor that also marked the first time the resort was open in May.

Middleton also pointed out successful results from the Biggest Skiing in America community marketing program: “all time record-breaking visitation” for the season of 2010/11. But Big Sky does not exist in a bubble. It’s part of Montana, and many of the same issues affect people in Big Sky, Bozeman, West Yellowstone, Ennis, and other towns around the region. This is reflected in the chronology below. E.S.

1. Epic winter snowfall and spring flooding

Last winter it dumped. Face shots, tram laps, powder in the Headwaters, and a stable backcountry snowpack were the results of La Nina. Snowfall on Lone Mountain was at 150 percent of the previous season, and 20 percent above average.

By late May, the Gallatin River basin was recorded at 189 percent of average and the Upper Yellowstone at 175 percent. These numbers were representative of mountain snowpacks across the state.

In June 30, the Gallatin River reached its maximum peak flow. The USGS gaging station in Gallatin Gateway measured 8,410 cfs, the highest since 1997, when it reached 9,160 cfs.

Spring thaw and continued precipitation caused road closures around the region, and destructive flooding in other parts of the state. At least 38 other rivers flowed in the 90th percentile of the 30-year average. In June, Gov. Schweitzer requested and received a Presidential Disaster Declaration for Montana. A.D.

2. Medical marijuana goes up in smoke

In March of 2011, the Federal Drug Administration carried out raids on medical marijuana dispensaries across Montana, including one in Big Sky and several others in Gallatin County. It was the same day Montana Legislators passed a statewide repeal act that would later be vetoed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

The legislation eventually passed several bills to restrict medical marijuana’s availability in Montana. The moves came after the number of Montana residents using pot medically boomed to more than 30,000. Officials recently announced that number has decreased. T.A.

3. APEC conference

In May, more than 500 international representatives and 100 Montana businesses convened in Big Sky, as part of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation’s Trade and SME Ministerial meetings. This was the second of four APEC meetings held in the U.S. in 2011.

APEC works to strengthen and drive economic growth and create an open and liberal environment for trade and investment, said Michael Camuñez with the International Trade Association.

Montana’s export revenue doubled in the last five years, and exports support 9,000 Montana jobs, said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke.

Of the 800-plus Montana companies exporting goods, over 80 percent were small and medium-sized enterprises. Their main markets: Canada, Korea, China, Japan and Taiwan. Top exports include wheat, meat, high tech products, tourism and education. E.S.

4. The search for Brad Gardner

24-year old Brad Gardner was skiing by himself out of bounds last March on Lone Mountain, when he disappeared. His family moved to Big Sky full time to spread awareness and look for him on the mountain.

Big Sky Search and Rescue spent hundreds of man-hours scanning the mountain in helicopter, airplanes, on skis and feet and with K9 units. Gardner’s friend and his father discovered several clues (including a pole lodged in a rock on a cliff and eventually his ski), which led to the discovery of his body in July. T.A.

5. Professional Bull Riding Tour stops in Big Sky

This past August, the PBR touring pro division visited Big Sky, selling out to a crowd of locals, statewide visitors, and tourists from across the country. A local group organized the now annual event, bringing the town together on a cool summer evening that’s been called the “best night in Big Sky.”

The Big Sky PBR made an estimated $250,000 local impact, and added another $100,000 in the days surrounding it. More than $25,000 was raised for local charities.

The Tax Board helped support the event with a $12,000 contribution, and in turn, the event could result in $33,000 in new tax revenue in the next 12 months. The BSCC was recently granted $12,201.35, from the Montana Department of Commerce to help market the PBR for 2012.

This success inspired a local group to apply to be the new host town for the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center. Big Sky made the list of finalists among Livingston, Madison County and Miles City. The site will be announced in February. A.D.

6. The rise of the Big Horns

Lone Peak High School had its first six-man football team in the history of Big Sky and Ophir School District this fall, thanks to the efforts of school administrators, the booster club, parents and community members.

On Saturdays, the new blue and white bleachers at Big Horn Field were swarmed with students and onlookers who cheered the boys to their first touchdown, and their first win on Sept. 17 against Billings Christian.

Led by coach and athletic director Tony Beardsely, the team traveled across Montana to other rural districts, and eventually made the playoffs.

“This story is much bigger than football,” said Taylor Middleton, Big Sky Resort’s General Manager. “It's about community.” A.D.

7. Creation of the parks district

In 2011, a collaborative group led by the Big Sky Community Corp. worked with the Madison and Gallatin county commissions to create two park districts in Big Sky. The districts will work together as one Big Sky Trails Recreation and Parks Special District.

The new district is self-funded and intended to work cooperatively with the BSCC. It will offer funding opportunities for parks, trails and recreation in the area, as well as provide Big Sky the ability to control its parks, trails and recreation through a government entity.

The BSCC also finished the initial phase of the Big Sky Community Park. This entailed building two ball fields, a multiuse field, a basketball court and a parking lot, and resurfacing the tennis courts and refurbishing the skate ramp. Climbing boulders, a state-of-the-art skate park and a concession stand are in the works for the west end of the park. K.M.

8. The Airport: expansion, re-naming and the Big Apple

The airport completed a two-year $40 million airport expansion in July. The new terminal added about 125,000 square feet to the existing building, and four gates, making it the largest in Montana.

The Gallatin Airport Authority board also voted to change the name to Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport at Gallatin Field, in an effort to compete with other regional airports.

A coalition including the airport authority, the ski resorts in Big Sky and other regional businesses raised $1.6 million to fund a new nonstop seasonal flight between New York and Bozeman. The goal is to have the service by June 2012, and for it to be self-sustaining after two years.

“To have a direct flight from the most densely populated city in the U.S. to the vast open spaces in our backyards is an obvious boon to both communities,” said Big Sky realtor Tallie Jamison. “Personally, I look forward to vacationing in Manhattan during the mud season.” E.S.

9. Lehaman Brothers and Moonlight settle

In late October, a federal judge confirmed a settlement plan between Moonlight Basin and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

Under the plan, Lehman agreed to supply funds to satisfy claims from Moonlight’s administrative creditors and provide a recovery for unsecured creditors. As part of the resort’s chapter 11 reorganization, this signified the dismissal of claims between the two companies.

“It was a major milestone in a series that were necessary to get us through and out of bankruptcy,” said Russ McElyea, Moonlight’s Chief Operating Officer.

Lehman is scheduled to close the deal with Moonlight and its former owner Lee Poole on Jan. 9, and all assets will be transferred to Lehman.

McElyea says the new plan should help the resort stay open in the long run, and continue to provide more than 200 jobs seasonally.

The resort’s brand, employee structure and “all the things that have always been associated with Moonlight” will remain, McElyea said about the resort’s future. This means continuation of its trademark hospitality and access to inbounds alpine terrain like the North Summit Snowfield will remain a priority. E.S.

10. Spanish peaks bankrupt, LIFT rises from the ashes

In October 2011, Spanish Peaks Holdings, LLC, the parent group of The Club at Spanish Peaks, sent a letter to its members and employees saying it closed its doors and laid off all employees indefinitely. Days later the group filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in a Delaware court 2,000 miles away.

Members of the club formed an ad hoc committee group to oversee court proceedings and deal with the trustee in charge of liquidating all assets at the former club. In December, more than 50 vehicles were auctioned off to raise much needed cash for the club.

Meanwhile, members raised funds for LIFT, a general grant award for the more than 100 employees that were laid off suddenly and without notice by the owner of Spanish Peaks Holdings. Nearly $100,000 was raised in that effort. T.A.