Outside magazine, June 1999
Home on the Range—for Just $5 Million a Pop
America's newest haven for the ultrarich prepares to say, "Howdy, neighbor. Can I see your wallet?"
The massive stone-and-lodgepole gatehouse a few miles west of Big Sky, Montana, could just as easily serve as the entrance to a national park, but for a small placard leaning against a pillar that directs visitors to PLEASE SIGN IN WITH SECURITY. Welcome to the Yellowstone Club, America's newest safe haven for the affluent, a 13,000-acre resort in the heart of the Gallatin National Forest that offers unlimited skiing and golfing in the shadows of the Spanish Peaks; entertaining glimpses of elk, moose, and bighorn sheep from the backyards of privately owned multimillion-dollar trophy homes; and best of all, a paparazzi-proof security system run by an ex?Secret Service agent who once headed up Gerald Ford's bodyguard detail.
"What we're selling is privacy and exclusivity," says Tim Blixseth, a retired Oregon timber baron whose latest venture attempts to market a Greenbrier-with-grizzlies experience. It's an approach that has tickled the fancies of cash-flush wilderness dilettanteswhile offending the sensibilities of ordinary Montanans in Big Sky, many of whom have pronounced the venture "hoity-toity," despite the fact that it will provide 250 service and administrative jobs for locals.
Talk to old-timers along the shores of Lake Erie, and chances are they'll regale you with tales of the blue pike, a fish whose prodigious reproductive impulses and legendary delectability made it a staple of a thriving Great Lakes fishery—until 1983, when decades of overfishing apparently sent the pike the way of the dodo. Two years ago, however, Lake Erie anglers began reeling in mysterious creatures that they suspected—but alas, could not prove—were the supposedly extinct blue pike. How to test this tantalizing hypothesis? Enter Jim Anthony, a Conneaut, Ohio, barber who stepped forward last winter to reveal that a 15-inch blue pike he caught in 1962 had, for reasons that are still a little unclear to us, spent the last 36 years residing alongside a rotating assortment of frozen vegetables in his basement freezer. This month, as researchers at Case Western Reserve University compare the frozen fish's DNA to that of freshly caught samples, Lake Erie neighbors are hoping that a piscine resurrection saga has begun to unfold. Anthony, however, is content simply to bask in his wife's gratitude at finally having a clean icebox. "The first three or four years, she didn't complain much," he says. "But I think she's pretty glad to get it out of there."
Though still under construction (the 18-hole golf course designed by Tom Weiskopf will be completed this month), the club's 1,000 membership slots have already drawn inquiries from more than 1,600 interested parties, including Hollywood luminaries such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Whoopi Goldberg. Vice-presidential wannabe Jack Kemp is on the board of directors. Greg LeMond signed up early this spring. And in March, Warren Miller, America's leading producer of ski films, sold his home in Vail to take on the job as director of skiing, a capacity in which he will manage the club's 35-mile network of private runs boasting an impressive 3,000 feet of vertical drop. "Instead of selling a lift ticket for a day," Miller intones, "we're selling a lifestyle." It is presumably on these grounds that he goes on to pronounce the Yellowstone Club project "a totally different concept."
And, we might add, a rather expensive one. Lifetime memberships start at $250,000, but most Yellowstone Clubbers are also required to purchase home sites or condominiums priced at up to $5 million. Simply qualifying for a look around the place requires proof that one's net assets exceed $3 million, plus letters of reference from "comparable" clubs. "We're only taking good people," explains Blixseth. "And in case we get someone that no one else wants to be around...well, we have total recallability rights."
Alas, not everybody shares his enthusiasm for the project. "Montana is in danger of becoming a gigantic theme park," warns the Greater Yellowstone Coalition's program director, Michael Scott, who points out that the club's annual dues of $16,000 hover just below the average take-home pay in Montana, which ranks 48th among the states in per capita income. But despite such carping, Blixseth and his friends appear convinced that the Yellowstone Club, part of whose land was originally deeded by the federal government to the richly endowed Northern Pacific Railroad, embodies the noblest aspects of America's frontier spirit. "It's going to be the sort of place where people look each other in the eye, tell the truth, and don't lock their doors," he explains. "We're trying to return to an old, American, basic way of life."—DAN OKO
EAR TO THE GROUND
"Three a day sounds like too many."
—A British decathlete, commenting in London's Daily Telegraph on a report that officials for the upcoming 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, have requested that 51 condoms be distributed to each athlete participating in the 17-day Games.