February 6 2008: 2:23 PM EST
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Paradise lost

Tim Blixseth carved a private golf and ski resort out of the Montana wilderness. But skills that took him from a tough boyhood to hanging with Bill Gates are tearing his empire apart.

By William D. Cohan

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Hot and cold: Blixseth in Mexico last month.
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Private powder: Blixseth at the Lodge.
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White mischief: The Warren Miller Lodge features a caviar bar and freshly baked cookies but is still unfinished despite a $100 million price tag.
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It takes two: Blixseth and his new lady, Jessica Kircher, at his private cabin.

(Fortune Magazine) -- As his Gulfstream IV roared off the Bozeman, Mont., tarmac one Sunday this past December, billionaire Tim Blixseth glanced out the window and looked down at the Yellowstone Club. The homeowners in this 13,600-acre enclave include Bill Gates, News Corp.'s Peter Chernin, and Barry Sternlicht, the founder of Starwood Hotels & Resorts. The club is the world's only totally private ski and golf resort, and it is Blixseth's vision of nirvana. It is also as self-made as its founder, who grew up poor in rural Oregon and "ate Spam five days a week" when he wasn't using his father's shotgun to kill wild game for dinner. Despite this starting point, Blixseth went on to become a timber baron and smooth operator who twice persuaded President Bill Clinton and the U.S. Congress to allow him to create the club out of the Montana wilderness.

Now the 57-year-old is on the verge of losing his fiefdom, thanks to a one-two financial punch: He is in the midst of finalizing a divorce from his second wife, Edra, that may chop his $1.3 billion fortune in half, and he is in the process of untangling himself from litigation with three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond, an original minority investor in the club.

So on this December Sunday, as his jet ferries him toward his new $8 million waterfront home in Medina, Wash., it is easy to see why Blixseth is coming to grips with the idea of selling his baby. "There are some times where I think, 'No, geez, I can't sell,'" he said. "But then part of me says I just want to come back here like I never saw it before and ski it every day and just be chairman emeritus."

If character is destiny, as Heraclitus and John McCain suggest, it was almost predictable that Blixseth would lose both his wife and "his baby" within a few months of each other. In person he exudes a down-home combination of chutzpah, naiveté, and ambition, but this potent psychological cocktail has led him at different moments in his career into bankruptcy and litigation. Additionally, his detractors would argue that the self-described "benevolent dictator" of the Yellowstone Club may have lulled himself into thinking that he could make deals behind the backs of his business partners without consequence. Or as one of LeMond's attorneys, James Goetz, has said of him, "Mr. Blixseth thinks he's king up there and can do what he wants."

Now it appears Blixseth's actions did have consequences. Edra, Tim's estranged wife, told Fortune that the Internal Revenue Service is looking into the club's finances. As to whether the club is the subject of an IRS investigation, Blixseth says that he cannot answer that question because of a confidentiality agreement he signed as part of a settlement with LeMond and the club's other minority investors. Regardless of what the government's inquiry turns up, though, one thing is for sure: The heavy-hitters who make up the club's membership want the air cleared.

The Yellowstone Club opened in 1997, and its centerpiece is the still-unfinished $100 million Warren Miller Lodge, named after the ski-film maker who, at 83, is an honorary board member. Like the club itself, the lodge is chock-a-block with underutilized amenities, from a caviar bar (where a single serving can cost up to $350) to reading nooks with overstuffed leather couches next to plates of untouched fresh-baked cookies. The empty restrooms are marble-lined and stocked with L'Occitane products. Up an imposing curved staircase and down a long wood-paneled hallway - replete with big-game taxidermy - is the lodge's main dining room. On a December afternoon, as Blixseth gives a guided tour, the bright Montana sun streams through the room's huge windows, which look out onto the slopes of Pioneer Mountain, where the vertical drop is 2,700 feet. A high-speed Doppelmayr covered chairlift continually deposits its empty payloads at the peak. Below the lift an occasional skier carves through the powder on trails named Learjet Glades, Sunset Boulevard, and Ebitda.

The club's roughly 300 members were invited to join by Blixseth only after agreeing to buy one mountainside home. "Ski in, ski out is a key selling point," he explains. The homes range in price from $5 million to $25 million, not including the land, which is priced at about $1 million per acre (but sold only in multiple-acre lots).

The number of residential properties at the Yellowstone Club is limited to a total of 864, of which about 500 lots are still available (and some members have bought more than one lot). Some condominiums remain for sale, too, starting at $3.5 million - no land involved. Honorary board members - among them former Vice President Dan Quayle, former U.S. Congressman Jack Kemp, and golfers Annika Sorenstam and Tom Weiskopf, who designed the golf course - were each given a lot in exchange for promoting the club. And they do so at a moment's notice if a serious prospect is around. One member, who requested anonymity, described how, when he was still a mere prospect, Kemp, Miller, and Weiskopf appeared on cue during lunch at the sumptuous Rainbow Lodge- about halfway up Pioneer Mountain - to help seal the deal.

Among the members paying full freight are Robert Greenhill, founder of Greenhill & Co., the Wall Street boutique investment bank; Steve Burke, the COO and president of Comcast (CMCSA); Jim Davidson, one of the co-founders of Silver Lake Partners; and Mike Markkula, a venture capitalist who provided seed money for Apple Computer. (AAPL, Fortune 500) It was at the Yellowstone Club in 1997, Blixseth is happy to reveal, when he was having lunch with Markkula - then chairman of the board of Apple - that Markkula made the fateful decision to bring Steve Jobs back.

Todd Thomson, the former Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) CFO, and his family are typical Yellowstone Club members. The multimillionaire Thomson, now 46, was once a serious contender to be CEO of Citigroup. After some initial trepidation because of the difficulty of getting his family to southwest Montana by commercial jet, Thomson says his wife and three kids flipped for the place when they first visited it in the summer of 2001 to attend "Camp Blixseth," a three-day outdoor, kid-friendly festival where every day has a different theme and the staff wears costumes flown in from Hollywood. To seal the deal, Thomson, a serious skier, returned in the winter of 2002 to try what Blixseth dubs "private powder."

"The skiing is spectacular," Thomson explains, with rising emotion. "Unlike any public resort, you're skiing virgin powder runs for two days, three days, after a storm. If you go to Alta [in Utah], and you haven't skied your runs by ten in the morning, you're not going to ski any more fresh powder. Everything's been cut up. At Yellowstone, for three days you can do this. It's extraordinary." After filling out a net worth statement and winning Blixseth's approval, Thomson immediately bought a lot and built a 5,000-square-foot house. In 2005 he bought an additional 20-acre lot, and he is planning to build another house. Thomson, who left Citi a year ago in a purge following a disagreement with CEO Chuck Prince on how to run the company, will then decide which of his two houses at the club to sell. At the time of his departure from the bank, the press also speculated his leaving Citi might have had something to do with a trip Thomson took on the corporate jet with CNBC's Maria Bartiromo.

Even more extraordinary than the skiing at the Yellowstone Club is the likelihood that Tim Blixseth would become a billionaire. The only son of Norwegian immigrants, he grew up in Roseburg, Ore., about 90 miles north of the California border, in a government tract house around the corner from the municipal airport. His father almost died from undulant fever, which left him with a damaged heart and unable to work.

The Blixseths belonged to what Tim describes as "a local cult," known as the Jesus Name of Oneness. "It had 67 people in it, and it was just very strange," he explains during an interview one day last fall from the $4,500-a-night Bottega Veneta suite at the St. Regis Hotel on Fifth Avenue. (He was in New York to meet with TV executives about a new show he is developing, starring himself, that he wants to call Heart of America.)

His boyhood life revolved around the church. What little extra money his parents had, they gave to its leader. "That was their social life," he says of his parents. "That was their country club." He had to go to church twice on Sunday and on Thursday night. "It was all fire and brimstone: If you don't do this, you're going to go to hell," he says. He knew by age 8 that the teachings of the religion were "hogwash" and that he had to find a way out. His drive to succeed has been motivated in part by a desire to show up the local kids who "persecuted him on the lunch lines" because he was on welfare.

Things began to change for the better when he saw a classified ad for three donkeys, for $25 each. He was about 13 years old and couldn't drive. He asked his brother-in-law to give him a ride in his pickup to take a look at the donkeys. He decided to buy them.

About a week later he was reading the classifieds again. "I saw an ad that said, 'Pack mule for sale, $75,'" Blixseth recalls. "I thought, 'Why don't I have pack mules?' So I put an ad in the paper: 'Three pack mules, $75 each.' The phone rang off the wall." A potential buyer came by to look at the "pack mules" and wanted to buy them. "So he gives me the $225, and a light bulb went on and I went, 'Huh, okay.' All we did is rebrand the donkeys into pack mules."

Blixseth has been turning donkeys into pack mules ever since. After graduating from high school he worked in a local sawmill, but what he really wanted to do was buy timber. "Everybody with success in Roseburg was in timberland," he says. "The closest I ever got to it was getting slivers out of my hands in the mill." He especially admired the Ford family, who owned the Roseburg Lumber Co., one of the largest private timber companies in America.

When he saw another ad selling 360 acres of timber in Oregon's Camas Valley for $90,000, he decided to roll the dice. He offered the seller $1,000, with the balance to be paid in 30 days. Blixseth figured out quickly that the Fords owned all the land around the 360 acres and might be a buyer. Without an appointment, he went to see the patriarch, Kenneth Ford. Told he was unavailable, Blixseth met with his son, Allyn. Blixseth offered the Fords the land, which would give them easier access to their own timberland, for $140,000. Blixseth figured that with a $50,000 profit, he could retire. "I just got lucky," Blixseth remembers. "My father thought I robbed a bank." Or as Allyn Ford said in a 2006 Bloomberg article, "He's the world's best dealmaker. He's able to elicit people's trust."

Around this time Blixseth met Edra Crocker, a California transplant and a partner in a small restaurant and hotel chain based in Roseburg. They started dating - both of their first marriages had hit the skids - and married in May 1983. Blixseth's bootstrap timber deals continued. One loss occurred when he made the mistake of signing government contracts, which he personally guaranteed, to cut timber and sell it regardless of the market price. The Blixseths filed for bankruptcy in November 1986, with $15.4 million in debt and $4,400 in assets. The case was resolved five years later, and in the meantime Blixseth looked for new deals and financial resurrection.

Thanks to a series of timber deals, he was a multimillionaire and retired in North Lake Tahoe, Nev., by the age of 40. But there was no one to play golf with during the middle of the week, and he was bored. So, on a whim, he took up a persistent real estate broker's offer to tour 164,000 acres of land owned by Plum Creek Timber Co. in southwestern Montana, just north of Yellowstone National Park. Plum Creek had earlier tried - and failed - to sell the property to the Nature Conservancy.

After negotiating with Plum Creek and removing a sawmill and 25,000 acres from the deal, Blixseth and two partners invested a total of about $10 million for 140,000 acres of timberland. At first the partners were going to log the timberland - an important habitat for elk, moose, buffalo, and grizzly bears - but the resultant uproar and threatened lawsuits from environmentalists caused Blixseth to shift gears.

With the help of Phil Lader, President Clinton's then deputy chief of staff and later ambassador to the Court of St. James's, Blixseth says he engineered three deals with the federal government to swap 100,000 acres he had just bought for the acreage that now encompasses the Yellowstone Club. The deal with the government also included additional land in several other Montana counties, plus 250 million feet of salable timber. These swaps required two separate acts of Congress. The first, known as the Gallatin Preservation Act of 1993, covered 38,000 acres and was Clinton's first major piece of environmental legislation. The second act, in 1998, is known as Gallatin II and involved another 54,000-acre swap. The public acquired another 8,100 acres from Blixseth without an act of Congress. (In an interview, Lader said he remembered selling some land to Blixseth when he worked in the private sector but does not recall speaking to him some years later about - or having any role in - his land swaps with the federal government.)

With the federal horse trading complete, Blixseth and his partners, Norm and Mel McDougal, split up their holdings: The McDougals took the timberland; Blixseth took the developable acreage. His total investment was around $5 million for a property that is worth at least 100 times that amount today.

"He's a sharp dealer," says George Draffan, a researcher at landgrant.org who tracks the development of once-public lands. Draffan has studied Blixseth's deals and says, "He's made a multimillion-dollar fortune at the expense of local taxpayers, national taxpayers, the local economy, and the Forest Service. Everyone has helped foot the bill for his profits. But in fairness, he just took advantage of 150 years of Congress's poor land-management policies."

Blixseth's Montana neighbor Ted Turner - he owns the 113,000-acre Flying D ranch - was appalled by Blixseth's deal with the government. "I made my money by creating things, not by sticking taxpayers," he said, referring to Blixseth, in a 1996 speech. Blixseth responded in a local paper by wondering why Turner didn't get smarter as he got older. (Turner did not respond to Fortune's request to comment for this article.)

Despite the hubbub, the Blixseths cleared land, put in a ski lift, and then set to work on building the golf course. Although the cost of these improvements in such a remote area eventually reached roughly $100 million, the idea was originally just to keep the whole property for his family's private use. The Yellowstone Club was incorporated after Blixseth discovered that his superrich friends wanted a place to go where security was tight, the amenities were first-class, the skiing was superb, and family members of all ages felt welcome. (None of it came without a cost to the environment. During construction, the club ran afoul of the Clean Water Act as well as the Environmental Protection Agency; it settled a lawsuit in 2004 by agreeing to pay a $1.8 million civil penalty without admitting guilt.)

The series of events that caused Blixseth to lose his paradise began unfolding in May 2006, when LeMond, his in-laws, and Jorge Jasson, a former senior executive at J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500), accused him of trying to cheat them out of a fair price for their equity in the Yellowstone Club. This group was among the earliest investors in the business. Their 4% of the equity in class B shares dated back to 1999, when the club was struggling. Together these shareholders filed a complaint in Montana's fifth judicial district court charging Blixseth (and his related corporate entities) with 18 counts of malfeasance, ranging from breach of contract to "actual malice." An amended complaint, filed in July 2007, added another 12 counts.

The plaintiffs allege that in May 2005, Blixseth tried to squeeze them out of their ownership stakes in the club by making a short-fused, low-ball offer without providing the financial information necessary to evaluate it. "In the early days of the Yellowstone Club, when it was an unproven dream with a few believers, you were one of them," Blixseth wrote to LeMond on May 25, 2005. In that letter he offered to purchase each member's 1% stake in the club for cash and property worth about $3.25 million. He wanted the outstanding shares because it would be easier for him to make deals going forward if he were the sole owner. He gave the minority investors until June 15 to accept the offer, but he didn't give them financial statements about the club's performance. In the complaint, the plaintiffs also allege that Blixseth obtained appraisals - as part of the loan underwriting process - that valued the Yellowstone Club at $1.16 billion, or $11.6 million per 1% equity stake, which is more than three times what he had offered LeMond.

To obtain the "financing" - a $375 million syndicated loan from Credit Suisse (CS), dated Sept. 30, 2005 - Blixseth pledged all the assets of the Yellowstone Club without consulting the minority shareholders or seeking their consent. And according to the complaint, he never distributed to the plaintiffs their prorated share of the loan proceeds. "This was a violation of Montana statutes and a breach of Blixseth's 'duty of care' and 'duty of loyalty' to his minority partners," contends Chris Madel, a partner at Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi, the Minneapolis law firm that represents the plaintiffs. Blixseth ended up taking the Credit Suisse financing but withdrew his offer for LeMond's and his other partners' shares.

The credit agreement allowed Blixseth to use the money pretty much as he liked. As a result, the plaintiffs further allege, Blixseth paid himself $209 million and used part of another $142 million to buy expensive real estate in Europe and Mexico - $28 million to buy Château de Farcheville, a 12th-century extravaganza on 1,125 secluded acres outside Paris; $40 million to buy the Tamarindo resort on Mexico's Pacific Coast, once owned by Sternlicht's Starwood Resorts; $28 million for a private island and 30,000-square-foot resort in the Turks and Caicos; and $12 million as a down payment for property near St. Andrews, in Scotland. These purchases were part of Blixseth's nascent effort to create Yellowstone World Club, a very high-end time-share resort company. (Blixseth is in the process of retooling this spinoff business, which is not part of the Yellowstone Club sale.)

Blixseth used very little, if any, of the Credit Suisse loan, the plaintiffs allege, to complete unfinished projects at the Yellowstone Club. They also allege that he had taken out another $65.6 million from the Club before he obtained the Credit Suisse loan.

For his part, Blixseth says the various corporate entities that made up the Yellowstone Club borrowed the money from Credit Suisse and then loaned the money to him - as permitted in the credit agreement. He says he paid interest on the Credit Suisse loan and repaid some principal from the ongoing sale of Yellowstone Club lots. As for the $65.6 million, Blixseth explains, he took the money legitimately over the years as a way to get back a portion of the capital he had invested.

According to Bob Sump, who works for Blixseth, Blixseth has paid off about $75 million of the Credit Suisse loan. Blixseth's banker at Credit Suisse, David Miller, did not return calls seeking comment about the loan, which generated a $7.7 million fee for the firm.

But Blixseth's unilateral borrowing has created a certain impression among the club's members. "Tim has treated the club like his own private piggy bank," says one member not involved in the lawsuit.

In a November 2005 e-mail to Blixseth, Jasson went further, writing of his increasing pique: "As a minority holder, over the course of this year I have been treated in a way that evidences that I am unwanted, irrelevant, and disrespected as a shareholder."

The LeMond lawsuit was ugly from the start. According to the complaint, Blixseth threatened to kick LeMond and his fellow litigants out of the club if they filed the lawsuit, and in July 2006, Blixseth did just that. But on Sept. 22 the judge reinstated them. To make the atmosphere even more toxic around the Warren Miller Lodge, a club employee with knowledge of Blixseth's finances died a few weeks later. On Oct. 19, Denise Ann Touhy, the Yellowstone Club's VP of finance, died tragically at her Big Sky home from an explosion caused by a propane gas leak, according to a local press report quoting the Big Sky fire chief Jason Revisky. Dental records were needed to identify her body.

Although Revisky says no foul play was suspected in Touhy's death, a rumor started circulating among club members that her death was related to the LeMond lawsuit. Says Blixseth: "Anybody that would even make an inference like that should have a two-by-four across his or her backside."

On Oct. 25, 2007, with buyers circling the Yellowstone Club, Blixseth settled the case with LeMond, Jasson, and the other plaintiffs. He saw the capitulation as necessary both to sell the club and to resolve his divorce. None of the litigants will comment about the settlement of the first LeMond lawsuit, since it is subject to a confidentiality agreement (a second lawsuit between the two men - alleging that Blixseth reneged on a contract to give Le-Mond a $1 million lot at the Yellowstone Club if he signed up ten new members - remains unsettled and is headed to court in Montana).

But, on February 4, 2008, the plaintiffs in the case filed new papers that accuse Blixseth of "blatantly" refusing to "perform the key promises contained" in the settlement agreements. The details of LeMond's new allegations against Blixseth are contained in a third amended complaint that has been filed under seal, which the plaintiffs' attorneys have asked the judge to decide by February 11 to unseal. Blixseth said he could not comment about the new allegations.

For her part, Edra continues to fight Tim in divorce court, where he has written of her "excessive" drinking - "six or more vodkas in an evening" - and of her steroid use "far in excess of what she was prescribed." Edra says these allegations "are harmful but not true" and has subsequently made fun of them by dressing up for Halloween with an intravenous vodka bottle in her arm, held in place by her new boyfriend, actor Jack Scalia, who dressed up as her nurse.

The Blixseths have trouble explaining how things between them became so contentious just six weeks after they had supposedly divided up their assets amicably "on a yellow pad of paper" at the Beverly Hills Hotel. At that time the Wall Street Journal wrote that their split was a model of a newfangled "billionaire divorce, [with] not a lawyer in sight." Now the lawyers will be paid many millions.

Part of it may be Edra's unilateral decision, against Tim's advice, to invest around $25 million of Tim's money in a Seattle software startup that claims to have technology that can compress as many as 50 movies onto a single DVD. In February 2007, during a dinner with Wolfgang Puck, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, and Bill Gates at the Warren Miller Lodge, Tim supposedly boasted about the compression technology- causing Gates to exclaim that the technology sounded "impossible but worth billions" if it worked. Tim's conversation with Gates behind Edra's back infuriated her, causing her to fire off several expletive-laced e-mails, including one in which she claimed, "Gates likes me better anyway." (Bill Gates declined to comment for this article.)

At the moment, the Blixseths have agreed to - and the judge has blessed- the splitting up of about 80% of their communal assets. In short, he gets the Gulfstream IV; she keeps the smaller G-II.

As far as property goes, she walks away with Porcupine Creek, a 30,000-square-foot mansion on 240 acres they once shared near Palm Springs, Calif. The compound, which includes a private golf course, was valued by Tim at between $200 million and $250 million in the court filings. Edra will also keep Casa Captiva (the family's Mexican retreat in San Jose Del Cabo) and any number of expensive cars, including a 2004 Rolls-Royce Phantom, valued at around $250,000. She will also get half the equity proceeds from the sale of the Yellowstone Club- probably around $80 million - and will now be responsible for paying her monthly expenses of $1.23 million, including the $738,000 monthly cost of running Porcupine Creek and her $100,000 monthly American Express bills.

Tim isn't hurting either. He gets, among other assets, the 160-acre family compound at the Yellowstone Club, on which he intends to build another home before selling the entire spread; the Tamarindo resort; Western Pacific Timber, his land development company, which just sold 179,000 acres of timberland in Idaho for $215 million to Potlach Corp.; and Desert Ranch, 3,000 contiguous acres of undeveloped land near Palm Springs, valued at $100 million, where he intends to build 5,000 luxury homes with a Yellowstone Club "feel." (He is also planning another 5,000-unit luxury housing development, with eight golf courses and 100 miles of horse trails, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, but he won't say precisely where.) Then there are his cars, ranging from a 2007 Aston Martin Volante, valued at $175,000, to a 2006 Rolls-Royce Phantom, valued at almost $300,000, to a new 2008 black-on-black Rolls-Royce Corniche Convertible; all the wine stored at Porcupine Creek; and the three yachts, worth $25 million.

The pending sale of the club to Sam Byrne, the 43-year-old head of CrossHarbor Capital Partners in Boston, is expected to close this month. (Blixseth had wanted $750 million but will probably get closer to $458 million.) Byrne, who manages a $6 billion alternative investment fund focused on commercial real estate projects, has already been developing Sunrise Ridge, a stand of 24 multimillion-dollar townhouses at the Yellowstone Club. Byrne explains that a "big part of the value proposition" for him in buying the club is in "repairing members' confidence" in the wake of the LeMond lawsuits, the nasty divorce, and Blixseth's failure to finish up the projects as promised.

Byrne couldn't be more different from Blixseth. Born and raised in Boston, he got his start in finance at the Bank of New England and learned about investing in distressed securities while the FDIC was liquidating the bank in 1991. He started what is now CrossHarbor the following year. At the Manchester Yacht Club, in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass., Byrne is a local hero after skippering the 38-meter ketch Freedom to a first-place finish in the 2005 St. Barth's Bucket, a three-day regatta.

To win the Yellowstone Club, Byrne outmaneuvered a joint bid from two club members - Thomson, the ex-CFO of Citigroup, and Burt Sugarman, a Hollywood producer and the husband of Entertainment Tonight's Mary Hart - as well as their outside operating partner, Mike Meldman, a developer of high-end golf resorts. The club's bylaws allow its 289 eligible members to vote on the sale, and 145 have to vote against Byrne's deal for it to fail. Sensing their potential leverage and unable to resist, Thomson, Sugarman, and Peter Chernin, among a group of about 25 members, organized a meeting Jan. 25 with Byrne at Sunset Ridge to try to horn in on his deal. He is considering offering members the right to co-invest after the deal closes, and this splinter group is now supporting Byrne.

Should the sale of the club close as scheduled - and the remaining $300 million of the original $375 million Credit Suisse loan to the club be repaid - the Blixseths will split the balance of $158 million. As the new chairman emeritus, Tim will focus both on being a roving ambassador for the club and on completing the 53,000-square-foot, ten-bedroom house he is building in the saddle of Pioneer Mountain. Of course, he claims to care little about material possessions. "Everything is lent to us [from God]," he says as his jet heads toward Seattle and he nuzzles his new girlfriend, Jessica Kircher, a blond 35-year-old Southerner. They're both wearing jeans and the glow of their nine-month romance. Although they have known of each other for a decade or so in Montana ski country, they connected earlier this year. (She was the real estate agent who sold him his Seattle home 36 hours after it came on the market.)

Just as Blixseth is getting ready to speak, though, Kircher's young daughter darts over and interrupts him. (Blixseth has two children from his first marriage and two stepchildren from his second.) Kircher's daughter has been trying to remember the words to her new favorite song, which just happens to be "Heart of America," a song that Blixseth literally dreamed up in the middle of the night soon after the Hurricane Katrina disaster. He then asked his friends the musicians Michael McDonald, Wynonna Judd, and Eric Benet to record it as an anthem for the tragedy. Blixseth has since donated 100% of the proceeds to Habitat for Humanity, plus another $2 million "to kick the process off," which has raised some $140 million for Katrina relief.

"Though we follow different faiths and we come from different lands," Blixseth patiently recites before breaking into half-song. "We are family and we all believe in the dream of the common man. It's the heart of America. It's the soul of you and me." His quasi-parenting duties completed, Blixseth turns back to the question still lingering in the rarefied air at 40,000 feet. He claims he won't miss owning the Yellowstone Club, particularly when members complain, "Hey, my hamburger was cold last week," but in truth he will likely miss being the lord of this particular manor. Who wouldn't?  To top of page

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