Centennial Valley group’s dream of saving ski chalet down to prayer

One final campfire could occur any day at the Lakeview Ski Chalet in the Centennial Valley. The site could soon return to the “undisturbed Wilderness Study Area quality” as represented on BLM maps. J.P. Plutt photos

A large fireplace, with a functioning chimney still intact, sits in the middle of the Lakeview Ski Chalet in the rugged Centennial Valley.

 

Enjoy an outdoor, wilderness experience at the Lakeview Ski Chalet overlooking the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, often called the most beautiful national wildlife refuge in the United States. Wide picture windows on all four sides of the rustic chalet provide breath-taking viewscapes of the rugged Centennial Mountains that rise more than 9,000 feet above the Centennial Valley wetlands. The inherent solitude and suitable habitat has made this the perfect place for reviving declining populations of the majestic trumpeter swan, and the Lakeview Ski Chalet could be your perfect location to get away from the hustle and bustle of a busy life and reinvigorate your mind and body with the beauty of southwest Montana just a step outside the door…

That advertisement will likely never run and Mel Montgomery’s dream of keeping the Lakeview Ski Chalet on the hill above Lakeview could very soon go up in smoke. Montgomery’s dad and friends built the chalet in 1965 and opened it in 1966. They carved out two ski runs and though they never did get a chairlift built, the chalet had electricity and skiers were moved up the hill on a 15-passenger Bombadier. Montgomery claims many Lima and Centennial Valley children learned how to ski at the site, and guests would snowmobile up to the chalet.

The chalet, operated under a BLM permit by Wayne and Annelies Montgomery, the chalet even had a ski instructor, Alan Raddatz.

Mel Montgomery remembers the chalet’s grand piano, dances and weddings and school trips to the building that stands sentinel over the Centennial Valley.

In time, property changed hands and the lease expired and eventually the BLM owned the chalet.

“We’re not intent on burning it down,” said Corny Hudson, Dillon BLM Field Office manager. “That is what we need to do. It is a facility that is in disrepair. It is a hazard. It is a facility that hasn’t been maintained since 2002.”

Hudson has an inspection report from 2005 that says the building, “doesn’t meet code,” and that rodent feces in the building “is a Hantavirus nightmare waiting to happen.”

In addition, Hudson has a report from July of 2012 that says the window calking contains asbestos. She estimated that it would cost $1,500 to eliminate the asbestos problem.

“We could expend federal dollars, public dollars to go in there and clean it up, but there is no drivable access to get up to that area,” said Hudson.

The chalet overlooks Lakeview, once a small town but now the headquarters of the refuge. There is a road to the chalet on private property owned, according to Montgomery by Kevin Rush. You can also walk to the chalet, about a mile from the main road.

Montgomery represents “Friends of the cabin on the hill,” a group of concerned Centennial Valley citizens who would like the chalet to remain a treasure in the wilderness. Montgomery feels wilderness may be at the heart of the problem. At some point, a wilderness study area boundary encompassed the private road, the chalet and the power lines that ran up the hill.

Hudson points to liability concerns, lack of public access by road, and disrepair as reasons she will oversee the burning of the cabin on the hill by Oct. 31. She says the BLM has given Montgomery many chances to save the building and he has not met his obligations.

Montgomery says his group is willing to fix the problems the BLM has with the building. 

“There is a solution for every problem – at no cost to the BLM,” said Montgomery of what he terms on on-going soap opera. 

Montgomery admits that he has been given chances to save the chalet and has not come through. He does know that once the BLM burns down the chalet, the piece of history and heritage of the Centennial Valley will be gone forever.