Lee Poole and Joe Vujovich had hiked, hunted and explored a certain stretch of Montana wilderness for 20 years. In 1993, the two former ranch hands from Ennis, MT, learned that the logging-scarred 39-square mile parcel was for sale. Partnering with Keith Brown, Poole and Vujovich bought the woods that would one day flourish into Moonlight Basin Ski Resort.
The partners called their project Moonlight Basin Ranch, and immediately they launched efforts to protect, preserve, and enhance their former hunting grounds. Huge portions of the forest were dedicated as a preserve – in fact, more than half the parcel has already been placed in conservation easements. Owned by railroad interests since Montana’s days as a U.S. Territory, the thinning woods bore testament to nearly a century of logging. By employing foresters, water resource consultants and wildlife experts to guide their restoration efforts, the partners were able to revitalize thousands of acres of mountain terrain.
As a thick new growth of native vegetation proved that the forest was healing, a wildlife expert recommended a ski resort to restore the land to full use. The trees had long choked out sunlight, allowing nothing to grow, and therefore, nothing for wildlife to graze on. Moonlight Basin cautiously cut runs and planted seven species of grass across each run. The formerly dark forest floor soon bloomed into grassy sunlit meadows. Deer, elk and moose grazed on the unused ski runs each summer, descending into the protected preserve as snow and skiers returned.
As Moonlight Basin added more chairlifts, a lodge, a spa and restaurants, the partners carefully monitored the resort’s growth. Initial real estate developments were sold to buyers who immediately placed them into conservation easements. When adding new trails, Moonlight Basin strategically cut them to minimize visual intrusion and keep the resort nearly invisible from across the valley. Even the Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course was built to blend into the surrounding terrain, as well as employ green irrigation techniques.
Moonlight Basin made national history in 2005 when the resort partnered with Big Sky Resort to offer a common lift ticket – the Biggest Skiing in America® Ticket. The ticket gives skiers access to both resorts, officially offering the Biggest Skiing in America® over the combined trails. This upcoming season, skiers on the Biggest Skiing in America® Ticket will explore a staggering 5,532 acres.
Still, the Biggest Skiing in America maintains a local focus and an ongoing commitment to careful development and environmental protection. Moonlight Basin has been honored over the last few years as the recipient of several prestigious awards for both their environmental protection programs and community efforts.