There's no dry cleaner, no car wash, nowhere to get a blow dry or a manicure. Looking for a sushi restaurant? You'll have to settle for a buffalo burger at the Corral Bar &...
BIG SKY, Mont. — There’s no dry cleaner, no car wash, nowhere to get a blow dry or a manicure. Looking for a sushi restaurant? You’ll have to settle for a buffalo burger at the Corral Bar & Grill. The closest place to park your private plane is at the Bozeman airport, an hour’s drive down a two-lane road.
Big Sky is no Aspen, Colo. But the super rich are flocking here anyway.
The lure: the Yellowstone Club, a private, millionaires-only resort community whose amenities more than make up for Big Sky’s lack of a traffic light or a designer boutique. With 22 square miles of mostly wilderness, it’s the only private club in America that owns a ski mountain and a world-class golf course.
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News Corp. President Peter Chernin joined two years ago, and just before Christmas, he and his family stayed for the first time in their newly built house, on a double lot near the top of Andesite Mountain. Next door, Steven Burke, president of Comcast, is planning to break ground on his new home this spring. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates owns the two lots next to Burke’s.
“Sometimes you have to pay to play,” says the Yellowstone Club’s Web site, which explains that in exchange for an initiation fee of $250,000, a required property purchase of $1 million to $10 million and annual dues of $16,000, members enjoy a gated wonderland that offers 40 hiking and biking trails, fly-fishing rivers and an 18-hole course designed by former pro Tom Weiskopf, a member.
Few skiers use the 2,700 feet of vertical slopes, guaranteeing so much untracked snow that the club has trademarked the slogan “Private Powder.”
Perhaps as important, the resort, whose borders are discreetly patrolled by helicopter, employs a 28-year veteran of the Secret Service as its “director of privacy.”
“Once you go there, you have to join,” said Brad Howard, a Los Angeles real-estate developer who is building a $6 million home, with an artist’s studio for his wife.
But when he first applied, he admitted, “I wondered if they would like me.”
That’s because just being rich does not guarantee entry. Members also must heed the personal motto of Yellowstone Club founder and timber magnate Tim Blixseth: Check your ego at the door.
“I’ve given some members warnings. I’ve returned some checks,” said Blixseth, 54, who said his ideal Yellowstone Club applicant possesses a minimum of $3 million in liquid assets [a membership requirement] and impeccable manners. “Our target member is a good, down-to-earth, humble person who is thankful for his or her success. … No jerks allowed.”
In addition to the club’s “honorary board” members, who include News Corp.’s Chernin, former Vice President Dan Quayle and former Rep. Jack Kemp, about 200 millionaires have joined.
“I’m not impressed by a person’s money,” said Blixseth, who with his wife, Edra, invested $200 million in the resort. He plans to cap membership at 864 but is in no hurry to reach capacity. “I don’t want [members] here because they feel entitled or want to show off.”
Thirty-six members have completed homes — some with elevators, wine cellars and spas. About 50 more houses are under construction, one of which features a top-floor room that rotates 360 degrees to take in magnificent views of the same rugged landscape that Robert Redford used as a backdrop for his 1992 film “A River Runs Through It.”
“This place is on fire,” said William Brickowski, a Montana-based contractor whose company, NW Timber Structures, is building two houses at the Yellowstone Club.
The Yellowstone Club wouldn’t exist but for two clever deals that Blixseth executed in the 1990s.
By that time, Blixseth — a high-school dropout who grew up on welfare in rural Oregon — had made a fortune in the timber business, gone bankrupt and become a millionaire again. Making his primary residence in Rancho Mirage, Calif., he built Porcupine Creek, a 240-acre private golf course, in his back yard.
He and his business partners then made a trade with federal officials, who wanted to prevent development of 164,000 acres the businessmen owned adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. In exchange, the entrepreneurs received about 100,000 acres in the Bozeman-Big Sky area.
Blixseth’s partners took the timberland, leaving Blixseth and his wife with a stretch of undeveloped land that they originally intended to turn into a family compound. The cabins and chalets they built were so popular with friends, however, that the two broadened their vision, deciding to create a country club for millionaires looking for an alternative to pricey, pretentious and overcrowded destinations such as Aspen.
Some old-timers worry that the jet-setters will destroy the small-town serenity of largely undeveloped Big Sky, home to a 31-year-old ski area. Yellowstone Club staffers complain that it’s already hard to find an affordable apartment.
Nature lovers, meanwhile, are furious about the Yellowstone Club’s environmental record. Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency filed a $1.3 million lawsuit against the club for polluting rivers and killing fish during construction of the golf course, roads and ski runs. The suit was settled for $230,000.
Yellowstone Club officials point to a project they initiated in 2001 that irrigates the golf course with treated sewage from Big Sky that was destined to be dumped into the pristine Gallatin River. The irrigation project cost $17 million, half of which the club paid.