Whitefish Mountain Resort To Restrict Uphill Travel

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | February 23, 2010      

For years I’ve been predicting that uphill skiing at North American resorts would grow in popularity ’till resorts reacted by either embracing it as another recreational activity that could strengthen their user days or restaurant business — or restricting it. My crystal ball has been working. Some resorts, such as Sunlight in Colorado, embrace uphilling. Hey, anything to bring people up there. Other resorts are highly restrictive. Still others (e.g., Aspen Mountain) have policies such as no uphilling during open hours but OK early in the morning or at night. Whitefish in Montana has entered the fray with the policy quoted below. Mainly, they’re concerned about people upskiing at night and being endangered by grooming operations, but they’ve also restricted day travel to the side of one run. The latter sounds reasonable, but banning after hours upskiing seems like a slap in the face of a very legitimate and growing sport that could actually help resorts with their bottom line.

My overall opinion is that resorts who are uptight about uphilling simply establish an uphilling trail that parallels their ski runs. This could be restricted to uphill travel only, and “groomed” after storms by a ski patroller simply skiing down it. Some resorts might not have suitable terrain for this, but many do. Years ago, Bob Perlmutter and I researched one such route for the then owner of Aspen Highlands. We found an excellent route up through timbered terrain and even along a scenic section of ridge, and only touched the piste several times. Our research never resulted in anything, but it sure opened my eyes to the possibilities. And yeah, even this solution would still require a run for folks to descend, but perhaps that run could be designated by signage placed by the groomers.

Know the details about a resort’s uphilling policy? Have an opinion? Please leave a comment.

Whitefish press release follows:

Whitefish Mountain Resort and US Forest Service Agree on Winter Uphill Traffic Policy

WHITEFISH, Mont. – Whitefish Mountain Resort and the US Forest Service announced a new policy pertaining to uphill traffic at the Montana ski resort today, in an attempt to decrease unsafe behavior associated with the increasingly popular activity.

“I’m not a fan of restrictions under most circumstances, but in this case I think it is necessary,” said Becky Smith-Powell, a Snow Ranger with the US Forest Service’s Tally Lake Ranger District.

Hiking uphill in the snow for sport, once reserved for only the most dedicated winter outdoor recreation enthusiasts, has seen a surge of popularity in recent years due to better equipment and coverage in mainstream media. Some participants attach synthetic “skins” to their skis, which enable them to climb slippery slopes. Others use snowshoes for the uphill portion of their journey and switch to skis or snowboards to ride downhill.

Resort officials pointed to an exponential increase in uphill traffic over the last few years as the primary reason this issue has come to a point of action now.

“It used to be that you’d see one or two people hiking the mountain on an average evening,” said Chester Powell, Director of Operations and Risk Management for the resort. “Now, our grooming operators will tell you they see 30 or 40 people on an average night, and many more if it is exceptionally clear or a full moon.”

The resort and the US Forest Service made clear that this is an issue of safety, not revenue. Resort managers estimate that as many as 90% of uphill travelers are current winter season pass holders.

“We see uphill traffic as an important part of the unique ski culture here,” said Donnie Clapp, Public Relations Manager for the resort. “That culture is our greatest asset as a business, and what sets us apart from all the cookie cutter ski resorts out there. I guarantee you we would not risk upsetting all of the people who enjoy hiking the mountain if we didn’t feel we have to.”

This season, resort staff have reported several near-miss incidents with winch cats ? grooming machines that use a powerful winch and steel cable to allow the grooming of steep terrain. The cables are under high tension and often bind and release, jumping 30 feet or more in an instant. As recently as Friday, Feb. 19, a grooming operator watched an after-hours hiker ski beneath his winch cable, encountering aggressive resistance when the skier was asked to vacate the area for his safety.

After-hours hikers also sometimes ski down close behind or in front of grooming machines after their ascents, ostensively looking for freshly groomed snow to ski on. Collisions with grooming machines have resulted in fatalities and severe injuries at other ski areas in the past.

“Our grooming operators are constantly worried that they’re going to inadvertently injure or kill someone who makes a bad decision out there,” said Powell. “I’m not willing to wait until that happens to reactively put a policy in place. I’d like to try and prevent it from happening.”

Other practices that have been identified as dangerous include travelling uphill on runs with blind break-overs or blind corners, travelling uphill in the middle of runs instead of keeping to the edge, entering terrain that is undergoing avalanche control work or closed for other reasons, and disregarding posted warnings to stay away from high-pressure water lines and high-voltage electrical cables associated with early-season snowmaking operations.

The policy developed by resort management and the US Forest Service will restrict uphill traffic within the resort’s Special Use Permit boundary to a single route on the mountain, as well as limiting the hours when the activity is allowed. The route follows the run called Toni Matt, hugging the uphill-left edge of the trail, and will be clearly marked. Uphill traffic will be allowed on the route during ski season from 6:30 a.m. until the resort closes for the day and Ski Patrol conducts their sweep of the mountain. The same route will be used between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. for the first 14 days after ski season ends, with no active restrictions outside those hours and dates. Uphill traffic will not be allowed pre-season, when the resort is likely to be conducting extensive slope maintenance and snowmaking operations.

“It isn’t realistic to think we can manage uphill traffic after we close for the day, even if we identified a suitable route that didn’t interfere with grooming operations,” said Powell. “Patrol isn’t here to keep people out of trouble, and people have proven they don’t always make the best decisions on their own.”

The full text of the policy, along with an Uphill Traffic Responsibility Code crafted by the resort’s Ski Patrol, can be found online at skiwhitefish.com. A large sign containing the policy and the Responsibility Code, similar to what might be found at a Forest Service trail-head, will be erected near the bottom of the uphill route. Ski Patrol also plans to hand out fliers to and have conversations with hikers between now and March 1, when the policy is scheduled to go into effect.

The US Forest Service plans to back the policy with a Special Order amendment to 36 CFR 261.53(e), which will allow them to send staff to assist the resort with enforcing the new policy.

“We fully support this preventative measure,” said Tally Lake District Ranger Lisa Timchak. “We are pursuing this policy in tandem with Whitefish Mountain Resort in the interest of public safety, and we plan to do what we can to help make sure people abide by it.”

Resort and Forest Service officials are optimistic that most people will embrace the new policy.

“Most people I’ve talked to have been sad to see evening hiking on Big Mountain go, but have agreed that something like this is needed. We all feel that way,” said Dan Graves, President and CEO of the resort. “I’m very hopeful that those people will encourage each other to work with us on adopting the new policy, so that going uphill can remain a part of recreating here for a long time into the future.”


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124 Responses to “Whitefish Mountain Resort To Restrict Uphill Travel”

  1. Michael Kennedy February 23rd, 2010 9:16 am

    Bogus uphill policy at Whitefish, but it sounds like people aren’t using much common sense either. Hope this isn’t a sign of things to come.

    Most areas could have a separate uphill track. As Lou mentions, the uphill he and Perlmutter found at the Highlands. But people have to use it. And you gotta stay clear of grooming, snowmaking and other ski area operations, especially closed areas. Show some respect for the hard-working folks up there just trying to do their jobs.

  2. Carl Pelletier February 23rd, 2010 9:41 am

    First of all I would like to visit this quote….

    ‘“I’m not a fan of restrictions under most circumstances, but in this case I think it is necessary,’ said Becky Smith-Powell, a Snow Ranger with the US Forest Service’s Tally Lake Ranger District.”

    Is this a US forest service employee saying she’s not a a fan of restrictions? Noooooo! This one got my attention. I’m not sure how many forest service access points that I’ve seen locked up during the winter…or winter recreation areas with a finite number of recreation days…or the red tape involved with and limiting the number of permit holders. From the land of many uses to the land of many padlocks.

    I was just on the US Forest Service website and I came across this quote “Marijuana plots and methamphetamine labs have become frequent sites in our forests. Those responsible for these illegal plots or labs are dangerous and should be avoided. If visitors inadvertently come upon these sites they should immediately depart the area and report the sighting to law enforcement officers.” – so apparently we can’t even have meth labs on forest service lands now. Talk about restrictive. The uphill travel restriction falls in line with this slippery slope….I guess it is a ski area so this makes sense.

    Lou – I couldn’t agree with you more about embracing the uphill travel as a potential source of revenue. Several times in the article it mentions that uphill travel is becoming an increasingly popular activity. In a time when ski areas are flat and many even experiencing downturns, why not try to embrace a new and emerging area of potential growth? If not for the profits how about for the goodwill? The forest service was even willing to put personel towards enforcing the new regulations….how about using those resources for education, support and encouraging use?

    I totally understand about the dangers that come with evening travel at a ski area…especially with groomers, winches, and no ski patrol. It sucks that a skier ducked the winch line and became aggressive when confronted. I feel that if given boundaries, skiers would respect these boundaries. Evening uphill ski travel is a great opportunity for residents to exercise and socialize after work. Good for the community. Maybe Whitefish could work with the town rather than the forest service in coming up with a great plan in dealing with this…..maybe even hiring an evening uphill ambassador to the area. This is a positive model that the folks in Jackson took as they created a paid position called the “Teton Pass Ambassador”.

    In my opinion there is potential for synergy in this situation if it is discussed more completely, rather than a seemingly knee jerk reaction and say “CLOSED”.

  3. Derek February 23rd, 2010 10:34 am

    I guess why uphill ski at a down hill ski resort is my question? If you do allow it you almost have to sell a 1 dollar pass saying you are responsible for your safety to protect you from a lawsuit down the road. Seems like a compromise could be worked out but I defiantly understand the safety hazard.

  4. Lou February 23rd, 2010 11:22 am

    Nice Carl, thanks for the erudition!

    Derek, because it’s there. And yeah, if they were smart they’d develop it, sell a cheapo pass to use the uptrail, and keep the restaurant open. If not now, this will come later. Going down, and up, is just too good, ski resort or backcountry.

  5. Omr February 23rd, 2010 11:26 am

    Free the piste and your mind will follow. Why so ennamored with the establishment? Kind of like going to the mall to run laps.

  6. Tuck February 23rd, 2010 11:37 am

    So a couple of dopes at Whitefish ruin it for everyone. It sounds like a bit of an over-reaction, but they clearly needed to do something.

    I’ve skinned up Mt. Snow in VT, and seen a few others do it, and the mountain personnel were OK with it, so long as I wasn’t a dope. I went out of my way to speak to ski patrol on the mountain before and during the ascents. They were very positive, and just wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing. I made a point of going up closed trails when they were available, and ski patrol actually appreciated that, since I made a point that I was going up to be out of the way, but would ski down only opened trails. (On powder days, I was taking the lift, since I had a pass.) Other mountain employees asked me about my gear or gave me a thumbs-up. (Dynafits get lots of attention in VT!)

    At Sugarbush in VT, lifts were closed on a “powder” day, and the mountain made an announcement that skinning was banned. Then, a few minutes later, they made an announcement that skinning was not banned, but should be done up X trail. They’re pretty skinning friendly, although it’s definitely kind of a grey-area activity. (Don’t skin up the closed peak, we’ll throw you off the mountain if we catch you, but no one is looking, and X trail is really nice, we hear. 😉 Haven’t done it myself yet, but I’ll be sure to chat w/ ski patrol and maybe the owner if I run into him about it before doing so.

    Mad River Glen is right up the road, and skinning there is actively encouraged, what with their single chair and all…

  7. Jonathan Shefftz February 23rd, 2010 12:13 pm

    Tuck, yes, that’s also been my experience at Mt Snow — totally friendly about it. Sugarbush though, it’s been all over the map…

    Here is my ever-evolving list, based on personal experience, first-hand observations of others’ experiences, and of course random internet postings.

    And additional data points most welcome, whether for areas not mentioned above or for omitted operational states for any of the above areas.


    – Berkshire East: early morning, ski patrol is completely ok with it, but after I’d been there several times, owner asked me some questions about liability and said he was going to talk to his insurance carrier. But the last couple years I’ve persuaded him to allow me to hold a rando race there (ascent route up a snowmobile trail outside the ski area), and since then when he’s seen me, he seems ok with it. (And post-season always seems to be ok.)

    – Blue Hills: years ago was okay, but then became banned (and apparently still is) and almost always enforced, and taken very seriously (because of a lawsuit by drunk Curry College sledders during nonoperational hours in season)

    – Nashoba: always banned (although with 240′ vert, why bother?)

    – Wachusett: ok pre-season, early morning in season, and post-season (though we got harassed by state DCR staff on June 1, but that was a pretty random encounter, although I’ve heard of at least one other such encounter, yet still very rare); during operational hours, state lease explicity requires all trail users to have lift ticket (and sometimes enforced); heard many stories of getting in trouble late at night during nonoperational hours in season


    – Attitash: reported to be friendly toward skinning, even during operational hours

    – Loon: during operational hours, have seen two incidents of skinning apparently unharassed (though trails were not crowded – for a typical weekend, skinning during operational hours would be suicidal)

    – Waterville: during operational hours, some friends have been ok, going up far climber’s left (on a trail that has relatively little traffic, with long line of sight) to near the top of the lower mtn HSDQ; also seems to be ok post-season

    – Wildcat: ok anytime (and officially stated as such in response to inquiries, with patrollers and instructors quite friendly toward skinners)


    – Jay Peak: ok pre-season and post-season; also one report of a Dartmouth xc racer skate skiing to the summit during operational hours; hosts a rando race with a great course each January

    – Killington: used to be ok pre-season, although for fall 07 was banned on active snowmaking trails because of safety etc concerns re ongoing activities; during operational hours, once saw a slow-moving skinner take multiple laps on a crowded early-season trail, apparently unharassed (though must have been terrifying from his perspective); has been ok when I’ve skinned there early morning, and during closed periods in the fall (when open only weekends)

    – Mad River Glen: Skin it? Yes, you can! (anytime, anywhere)

    – Magic: totally ok w/ skinning (and I hold a rando race there each March)

    – Mt Snow: preseason varies, i.e., heard credible report of skier told to leave while snowmaking, grooming etc were ongoing, but for fall 07 and fall 09 nobody seems to have been stopped (and many workers and patrollers saw us one day); okay nonoperational hours in season, and post-season; apparently also okay during operational hours if you’re careful about it

    – Pico: ok pre- and post-season, and during Tu-We closures; once saw someone skinning up apparently unharassed during operational hours

    – Stowe: ok pre-season (even including not-yet-open gondola section while main section is open), nonoperational hours in season, and post-season

    – Stratton: surprisingly, okay at pretty much anytime

    – Sugarbush: highly variable


    – Big Tupper: banned

    – Greek Peak: banned, though sometimes can get away with it at Chair 5 / GP East, i.e., one year several workers just waved to me, but another year I was stopped, and the staffer even waited for me to deskin and start skiing down before he snowmobiled away

    – Whiteface: ok early-morning; banned during operational hours

  8. ScottP February 23rd, 2010 1:27 pm

    There are several good reasons to do this at a ski area.

    First, avy control. When I used to skin the local ski area in Los Alamos, NM, it was generally as an evening thing after work and it would be dark out. Avy conditions are hard enough to ascertain when it’s light out. When it’s dark we definitely didn’t want to risk the BC. As a corollary to that, it’s also nice to have a very well marked area to ski so you don’t get lost in the dark. This is now irrelevant in the Whitefish case since they’re banned it when they’re closed.

    Second, it’s easier and less risky than BC. Sure, that eliminates a lot of the thrill for most people, but sometimes a lighter uphill day is nice for gentler training for the BC, particularly if you’re on a trip with family/friends who don’t/can’t do BC. Also, the avy conditions figure into this: when you still want an uphill workout but the conditions in the BC are prohibitive, a few laps at the resort is pretty much your only safe option. Also, there are ski areas that are not open certain days of the week (Pajarito was only open on weekends), so if you wanted to ski during bad avy conditions mid-week, hiking was your only option.

    Based on my experience that majority of demand for uphill skiing is when the resort is closed because as much as the resort doesn’t want any of us nailed by some out of control fool on planks, we want it even less. Too bad Whitefish had to forbid the after hours. I can see their side, especially from a liability standpoint, though.

  9. Greg February 23rd, 2010 1:30 pm

    I was chased off of Mt. Snow twice (Fall ’02 and Fall ’03) for skinning pre-season during warm weather (no snowmaking). The first time an employee told me at the top that skinning was not allowed and I should just ski down to the bottom. The second time I was escorted down on foot by an employee who told me that he had no problem with skinning but his boss was watching him from below.

    You can add Cannon to the list of skinning-friendly east coast resorts. I’ve never had a problem there.

    As far as reasons to skin at a resort, the biggest benefit for me is that it allows me to get on snow earlier than if I waited for snow to pile up in the backcountry. A few inches of man-made base go a long way in October or November.

  10. Jonathan Shefftz February 23rd, 2010 1:33 pm

    Sorry to hear about the prior Mt Snow experiences, but that was under ASC ownership, so probably new managers in place now?

  11. Brooks February 23rd, 2010 1:24 pm

    Props to many of the Colorado mountains for having an open or at least “thought-out” uphill policy. Crested Butte, Echo Mountain with nominal fee “uphill passes”, Winter Park prefers before/after daily operation but is open. Many more I am sure…

    The ultimate Boooooo to Eldorka for their lame approach to uphill skiing. Seems silly to have an uphill/dowhnill race at your resort, but not allow anyone to train there! I have been screamed at even skinning up OUTSIDE of the ski area boundary rope!

  12. Greg February 23rd, 2010 2:28 pm


    Yes, that was during ASC ownership. With new management the situation has probably changed. I imagine that things can change day to day depending on who is on duty, too.

    I’ve also heard that if you ask for permission first you can skin at Haystack, although the owner will have you arrested for trespassing (private property) if you’re there without his permission.

  13. cletus February 23rd, 2010 3:51 pm

    i’m a graveyard groomer at WMR, and though we rarely (a couple times this year) see people before 6 am on our shift, the swing shift guys are on the front lines and dealing with this every night. i’m sad to see the restrictions put in place and agree that courting the uphill travelers could add (a small amount of) revenue. i skin the mtn a few times a year before and after the lift season mainly due to its convenience. the rest of the season though, i choose to skin in the hundreds of thousands of acres of USFS, MT state lands, Glacier Nat park, several wilderness areas available less than an hours drive from my door. the things i love most about backcountry skiing including solitude, independence, and untracked pow are in short supply skinning up a groomed run on area. if one wants easy, safe, controlled areas for an hours exercise after work maybe the groomed and lit nordic track is a better idea. all in all, i feel bad for the mgmt who will be dealing with the backlash this will generate in our community, lots of people feel entitled to the benefits that the ski area creates for its paying customers just because they have skins.

  14. Newman February 23rd, 2010 4:04 pm

    Hate to say it, but unfortunately a few idiots ruined it for everyone in Whitefish. Winch cats are VERY dangerous. To ensure that those of us who no longer have flexible schedules can continue to ski on powder days, i.e. have to ski before and after work, please be respectful (read: stay out of their way) of grooming, patrol and avy activities. As a frequent dawn patroller (this am at Santa Fe was fantastic … deep blower wind deposit), I wear a flashing LED on my pack to be seen (Lisa Dawson’s idea), and always say hello to any staff I run into. As long as you’re not an idiot; patrollers, groomers etc seem pretty psyched to see you out there getting it. A little common sense goes a long way.

  15. Smokey February 23rd, 2010 4:12 pm

    I was skinning up WMR the other night and “Cletus” damn near ran me over with his wench cat…

  16. Thomas B February 23rd, 2010 4:39 pm

    i have a treadmill that I have covered in silicone, I skin 5000vert before and after work in my living room watching ski movies. It is alot safer than the BC and I don’t need to mess around with partners and the whole downhill part. :biggrin:

  17. Doug February 23rd, 2010 7:14 pm

    Always grateful for the Aspen Ski Co’s mellow attitude towards uphilling. My observation is that most folks are thoughtful and considerate, sticking to the sides during the day or partaking early or late. I am concerned that inconsiderate dog owners failing to remove their pet’s “gifts” may interfere with that easy access.

  18. Toby February 23rd, 2010 7:27 pm

    My experience is in Grand county Colorado at Sol Vista and Winter Park ski areas. Sol Vista sits on all private land so management can make any rules they want. Technically any access to Sol Vista requires a pass and no uphilling is allowed. In practice my experience is the ski patrol doesn’t care as long as you aren’t an idiot but it would not surprise me if one day a patroller told you to hit the road because “management” does not approve and he’s just doing his job.
    I have not skinned Winter Park in a long time but a few years back I went into the Forest Service district station in Granby because I was curious about the legality of uphilling at the resorts in the county. The ranger was actually very cool and made a copy of the actual verbiage outlining access to ski areas that sit on public FS land and it basically said an area that sits on public land can’t deny you access unless you present a hazard. The interesting part of all this to me is the legal aspect of it regarding the resorts rights under the special use permit to enact the policy and then the subsequent Special Order amendment that will be put forth by the FS. I am wondering if the resorts interpretation of their permit would stand up in court and I what rules do the FS have to follow when issuing Special Orders? Can they just issue an order when they see fit? Who would challenge this in court anyway?
    Any lawyers out there care to comment or is this lame commentary?

  19. Brandon February 23rd, 2010 7:52 pm


    Nobody is saying they would rather ski groomers than backcountry powder. You yourself admit that you skin up the mountain because it is CONVENIENT. Nobody feels entitled to use WMR because they have skins but because it is public land and past practice has had no problems with it. The lack of public involvement in the decision making is ridiculous. Oh and people would love to use the WMR nordic area except that when the local nordic community offered to maintain and groom the trails WMR said no so the trails sit empty.

  20. Bar Barrique February 23rd, 2010 11:17 pm

    Sounds like a better compromise could have been found, but it seems management was probably looking for an excuse to shut the up hill traffic down. These short sighted types were the guys who tried to ban snow boards, while not realizing that their customers were the ones who paid their wages.

  21. Mark W February 24th, 2010 12:30 am

    Most ski areas could establish an uphill only route because trails designed for cats, maintenance vehicles, and snowmobiles already exist. Seems like the liabilities of a ski area are myriad to begin with, so why would including uphillers be such a burden in addition? After all, this is America, where nearly any open space to put legal disclaimers has already been filled with legalese.

  22. CookieMonster February 24th, 2010 3:53 am

    Could an uphill-only ski could survive? It would be interesting to see.

  23. Plinko February 24th, 2010 4:09 am

    According to these new rules the Whitefish Whiteout (annual rando race) is now against policy.

    It’s been a fantastic event, gaining strength each of the three consecutive years I’ve attended. Such a shame to leave all those folks high and dry. A growing trend in the market and WMR managers just alienated them all!

    Way to estrange a core contingent, with ZERO opportunity for public input or concessions for alternatives for after-hours use.

    The day-use restrictions are understandable. The new night restrictions are pathetic and weak and show certain lack of imagination.

    Why go so far overboard? I thought this was Montana, not California! Wouldn’t it have been enough to post signs stating no skiers within 500 feet of operating grooming equipment? Put out a sign and if individuals chose to not abide, and get close enough to the machinery to get hurt, so be it. Natural selection at work. Don’t penalize the masses though for the idiocy of these few.

    Banning everyone for the actions of a few is rash and imprudent and requires a remedy that you have not yet offered.

  24. Plinko February 24th, 2010 4:12 am

    If you believe this is a bad idea, please say so now:


  25. Wayne Nicholson February 24th, 2010 6:01 am

    Wow, what a stupid rule… I guess resorts just want to maximize there profit since uphillers don’t pay tickets. Hopefully others won’t follow.

  26. Lou February 24th, 2010 8:09 am

    Good points you guys. Day skiers with lift tickets also have the potential of accidents with on-mountain equipment, perhaps they should ban day skiers as well?

    This idiocy actually does remind me of the snowboard bans.

    My wife just uphilled Sunlight Mountain Resort, and noticed they had what she thought were some fairly new uphilling rules signs. Basic, like staying to side of runs and staying a certain number of feet from grooming machinery. Whitefish could simply have such rules, then if someone violates, handle it on an individual basis rather than punishing the masses for the sins (or potential sins) of a few. But, sigh, this is so so typical of the ski resort industry. Don’t embrace a new trend, just discourage it.

    If business people had thought this way when resort skiing first started, we never would have had the ski resort industry.

  27. Adam Olson February 24th, 2010 9:26 am

    If ASC had the Forest Service in there hip pocket like Whitefish, we wouldnt be skinning up the piste here either! Or skiing sidecountry, or brown bagging it at on mountain restaurants, or skiing powder on the backside of Aspen Mtn, or ………


  28. Tuck February 24th, 2010 9:34 am

    Haystack: I was told you weren’t allowed to do it, but the snowmobilers use the old ski trails all the time. If you park at the bottom and skin up I’ve heard you’ll have a problem, but there are other ways onto the trails… FYI, for those not in the area, Haystack is out of business, but the trails haven’t had time to grow over.

  29. dave downing February 24th, 2010 10:05 am

    Hi all.
    I was going to mention this to lou, but he’s always on top of it and got the scoop. Anyway, I was as pissed as anyone when I first heard about the policy. After spending most of the season injured I’d only finished my first night skin of the season a few days before I caught wind of it (from my wife who works for WMR, talk about watching my tongue for a few days 🙂

    However, after hearing more and more about the “idiots” skinning up the mountain, it was sadly the right thing to do…for now. In a small group of uphill travelers, there is a huge sense of entitlement. There have been verbal confrontations in which said “idiots” have claimed they could ski where ever they wanted (even under a winch cat’s cable).

    In just 1 night this year i saw more dangerous activity skinning up (aka, no lights by climbers as skiers mached by, sans lights) than i saw in years at sunlight. But also a lot more people.

    There were thought about special uphill pass, etc. But WMR doesn’t have the skier visitors to keep all their lifts staffed and paid, let alone to have a new crop of people enforcing a bunch of new uphill rules.

    In the end the previous policy of uphill travel was don’t-ask-don’t-tell. That was ruined and no solution will be as simple as posting rules again b/c of it.

    This sucks, but it is our fault. We need to not see this and management looking for a reason to shut down uphill traffic. We need to stop feeling so oppressed. This decision was by Ski Patrol and Mountain operations. Maybe we weren’t all stupid and careless in causing this decision, but we also didn’t self regulate as we needed to.

    Management has said they are willing to change the plan over time, so maybe we can find a better solution. Keep the ideas coming.

  30. dave downing February 24th, 2010 10:05 am

    @ Smokey Are you the guy that almost ran into to STOPPED cats?

  31. Smokey February 24th, 2010 10:40 am

    @ Dave…no, I was just razzing my buddy “Cletus” that works graveyard grooming….

  32. Alex February 24th, 2010 10:43 am

    It’s relatively disturbing to see the policies WMR (it will always be Big Mountain to me though) put in place regarding uphill trafic. I have been around ski areas my whole life and I can understand thier liability concerns (specially with stupid people skiing under the cat cables), but they really did not expend much effort on a solution.

    I am fairly new to the concept of hiking for my turns, but was amazed when I recently spend a day at a small resort in Oberammergau Germany where I would say 30% of the skiers were on AT gear. I was really impressed at how the small area seamlessly integrated the uphill traffic into the operation. They had marked uphill areas along the runs, caution signs were skin trails had to cross the piste, and an outstanding “Uphill skiers responsibility code” billboard by the lift lines. I wish I had taken a picture of it so I could send it to the guys at Whitefish. Despite not speaking German, I was able to understand exactally what they expected of anyone (on skins, snowshoes, or just hiking) who used the trails. It was all common sense stuff, but did serve to remind people that they needed to use it.

    Its sad and shortsighted that when confronted with a challenge, WMR (and many other resorts) chose the easy way out and just ban something rather than looking around to see if there are more acceptable solutions.


  33. Lou February 24th, 2010 10:49 am

    Alex, thanks for backing me up on that Euro take. It really is amazing what’s happening over there with uphilling. Perhaps all the Whitefish staff need to do a research trip over there, with their spouses, of course. Dave?

  34. Lou February 24th, 2010 10:54 am

    Another thing: It’s true that people do stupid things, like ducking under a winch cat cable, but that’s true in any area of life, any arena. But banning a legitimate use of public land due to a few stupid or absent minded people is bogus. I’d like to side more with the resort on this so I presented a more balanced take, but that take is just not working for me. I’ve seen uphilling functioning well in too many other places to get hoodwinked into thinking an uphilling policy has to be this strict. Yeah, Whitefish might have different issues than places such as Ski Sunlight, but there HAS to be a way to deal and allow uphilling around the clock. For starters, again, Dave, is there ANY way they could establish an uphill route that stays off the piste? People would still ski down the piste, but at least that would keep the uphillers off the runs both night and day.

  35. dave February 24th, 2010 11:30 am

    @Lou. I’m all for a research mission to Europe, just need the joint WMR / Wildsnow sponsorship 🙂

    I think it’s true this action was taken hastily, but I’ve seen more responses from members of management than I would have expected, all voicing that this wasn’t implemented as an end all plan. (and note, they haven’t banned legitimate use, but restricted. I’ve never seen this much uproar over a city park closed at dusk). In a short amount of time, something like an uphill pass policy wasn’t going to be put in place. Extended open forums wouldn’t have happened before May. This was a knee jerk reaction deemed necessary by stupid, arrogant, disrespectful skiers. For now we need to stay civil, and present more solutions and ideas and less energy wasted on hating “local oppressing management.”

    As for the sunlight comparison, they vacate the premiss at dark it seems. I’ve never seen an employee, snowcat or snowmobile up there when skinning. When do they groom anyway? Anyone? That makes for an entirely different situation.

    As for an off-piste skin track, i’m not sure there’s a good spot that wouldn’t have the issue of putting a skin track through skiable gladed terrain…

    Please note everyone that I do think that there should be an option for night skiing (at least until 9pm???). However, there was a screw up, these are consequences and i’m hopeful that the rules can be amended.

  36. David Boye February 24th, 2010 11:32 am

    Lou, this could be resolved by simply publishing the grooming plan, and making it a requirement to stay away from grooming operations at all times, just like during the daytime, subject to penalties. However, the ski area is insisting they cannot patrol after hours to enforce this. I’ve suggested that since they all have radios, that it would not be too hard, but they disagree.

  37. dave February 24th, 2010 12:01 pm

    David. the issue is enforcement. If WMR can’t enforce, then they can’t place a policy. If they have a closure, with FS approval, my understanding is that the FS is enforcing.

    So a couple things:

    – this may be enforced like dogs on leashes. Sometimes you run into FS, sometimes you don’t. Are you feeling lucky 🙂

    – if we see WMR staff enforcing, we call them on it, and tell them to have that person be a late duty patroller instead and open up skinning.

    As for radios to enforce a policy, who do they radio. And that doesn’t keep people away from the unseen (by the cat driver) winch cable for example.

  38. dave downing February 24th, 2010 12:08 pm

    regarding enforcement:
    “We fully support this preventative measure,” said Tally Lake District Ranger Lisa Timchak.… and we plan to do what we can to help make sure people abide by it.”
    from http://bit.ly/bIlu8w.

  39. Rob February 24th, 2010 12:15 pm

    The new uphill policy at the Whitefish Mountain Resort is a tragic loss of an invaluable family outdoor recreation/education opportunity. For years my family and I have been going up after school on spring afternoons to enjoy an evening hike on the hill. This is such an excellent time for encouraging and teaching mental and physical well being as well as an appreciation of outdoor recreation and environmental conservation. I am very sad to loose this time with my family on the hill in the spring, it was very special to us, truly one of my favorite things about the area.

    I am very disappointed that the Forest Service is not doing more to protect this recreational resource for us and future generations.


  40. Lou February 24th, 2010 12:15 pm

    It’s always a hoot when the powers that be use “prevention” as an excuse to limit freedom. If they applied that principle to everything, we’d all have to spend our lives in bathtubs of warm water.

  41. dave downing February 24th, 2010 12:22 pm

    I’m always amazed at how much freedom we want so long as we are guaranteed protection and can sue later on 🙂

  42. Jess Downing February 24th, 2010 12:28 pm

    you guys are a lot nicer in these comments than we’ve had to deal with as of yet, so thank you… As a part of the wildsnow community, and coming from the ‘inside’ here at WMR, I want to address a few things (some official, some personal commentary):

    – We were NOT looking for a reason to shut down uphill travel. Many of us on staff – myself included- really enjoy after work skins to the top. We have an amazing view from our summit, and its just as cool at night.

    – The only issue is SAFTEY. The combination of poor backcountry snow pack, less than ideal on mountain snow conditions and probably other things like $$, uphill traffic both day and night has increased tremendously. As stated in the press release, there were too many close encounters both day and night for Mountain Operations to ignore any longer. Yes this was a drastic move, but it’s not set in stone permanently. Holding a public forum was strongly considered, but that would have taken months to finalize: something had to be done quickly to keep any more serious encounters from taking place (seriously, TWO people skied under/over wench cat cables!!). My personal hope is that if our locals are respectful, and the uphill route in the daytime works well for the rest of this, we can open the route up at night.

    @Plinko – The Whiteout will not be effected. The race starts at 8:30 (before the lifts open) and is on a marked course up hill (on Toni Matt – the new established uphill route). There are signs and markers and patrol all over the mountain making sure it’s safe.

    Our sidecountry on the mountain is awesome. We took a run off the back with our avy gear yesterday and then skinned (or boot packed) back to the lift and rode right back up to the top. This mountain has one of the most lenient backcountry policies of anywhere I’ve skied, and its embraced and I love it.

    I’ll gladly go spend some ‘research’ time in Europe… when are we going??? 🙂

  43. Rob February 24th, 2010 12:33 pm

    Unfortunaltey this new uphill policy will soon confict wth the sidecountry policy….excuse me while I get sick

  44. Plinko February 24th, 2010 12:42 pm

    Of course the Whiteout has been discussed extensively over the past few weeks, and although this policy will limit training opportunities, it will not prevent the event from happening. Many of our events include activities that are not normally allowed (like skiing at 75mph in a downhill race). When it is a controlled atmosphere, the risks can be managed. What we don’t know is if any of the people who traditionally compete in the Whiteout will continue with the new policy in place.

    It is not accurate to say there has been zero opportunity for public input. We’ve been talking to many members of the community who hike on a regular basis (including myself and other employees who do it), and we’re still taking public input. This policy is not a final, set-in-stone thing. We felt we needed to do something, soon, because the frequency of extremely dangerous activity had increased so much. Of course we’ll be looking at any ideas that are suggested and trying to come up with the best possible solution for all sides.

    You have to understand, though, that while we all agree with you in principle that the actions of a few should not ruin it for many, with this country’s legal atmosphere, that is how it is. We cannot risk a maiming or fatality from a collision between a skier and a groomer. The lawsuit that might ensue would be so costly, it might endanger the resort’s continued existence.

    Under today’s laws, once we have identified dangers that are severe enough to require any kind of policy (which we have), we must do our best to prevent people from encountering them or we could be liable for any injuries that result.

    On top of that, and perhaps more important to us, is the effect this has been having on our staff. We had a groomer ask for a leave of absence with the possibility of quitting permanently last week, due to a confrontation with someone who skied under his winch cable and then became aggressive when asked to vacate the area. Every single one of our groomers are terrified they are going to kill someone who makes a bad decision out there, and that is not a fair situation to put them in every night.

    We do not believe that signs asking people to stay away from groomers would be effective, because the grooming operators themselves asking people to stay away has not been effective. As stupid as the people may be who ignore that advice and put themselves in danger, we’re still responsible for their safety while they are within our permit boundary, and we have to take that seriously.

    If you haven’t already, please check out the Facebook group that has been created to explore this issue – http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=315081054303&ref=ts


    Donnie Clapp

    Public Relations Manager
    Whitefish Mountain Resort
    PO Box 1400 • Whitefish, Montana • 59937
    e| pr@skiwhitefish.com

    w| 406.862.1948
    f| 406.862.2955

  45. dave downing February 24th, 2010 12:43 pm

    the sidecountry/uphill conflict was my first and biggest concern…but i think that’s easily skirted. IF you happen to see someone enforcing, and you had the option of skinning goat haunt to home, or 20 miles of snowmobile trails to nowhere out of the BC, i don’t think you’ll exactly be put i the slammer.

  46. Geoff February 24th, 2010 1:08 pm

    Two quick comments about uphill skinning at ski areas in Europe:

    1) The very rational policies at most ski areas in Germany are a result of years of discussion between the German Alpine Club (DAV) and the ski areas. The DAV essentially acted like a collective bargainer for backcountry skiers, then launched a big publicity campaign after a deal was reached. Like Alex said, the rules are simple and common-sense, and anyone interested can download the PDF at:
    It’s in German, but I can help with translation if anyone wants.

    2) Of course, all of this was much easier because Europe doesn’t have the lawsuit-friendly culture that America does. Ski areas don’t have the large liability here that they do in the US, so they don’t have to worry about getting sued if some nighttime skier cuts himself in half on a winch cable.

  47. jharrod February 24th, 2010 1:11 pm

    eldora is in the process of updating their master plan. they held 3 open houses in boulder/nederland to share their vision and listen to the wants/needs of the public. a few of us mentioned the need for uphill access and they wrote it down on the list. if uphill travel is something you would like at eldora, click the link below and let them know.


  48. cletus February 24th, 2010 1:17 pm

    as i said, i’m sad to see the rules put in place too. i’ve never had a negative encounter while grooming and probably won’t radio security if i see people skinning. hopefully the hours can be extended in the spring, and none of the people drinking at the summit for an hour after sweep get injured on the way down… again.
    thanks dave and jess for the polite defense of the policy.

  49. Lou February 24th, 2010 1:45 pm

    It does occur to me, if it’s so dangerous to ski after hours, why not limit the amount of alcohol that a skier can consume during the day so we don’t have buzzed skiers hacking their way around? It would be interesting to measure the BAC of all injured skiers and boarders… of course, most resorts make a lot of money from restaurant alcohol sales, so my suggestion is perhaps a buzz killer either way you look at it?

    So, if night skiing is so dangerous, how about breathalyzers at the lift ticket checks for day skiers?

  50. Lou February 24th, 2010 2:33 pm

    Plinko thanks for chiming in with the official take. Using the resort’s logic, I would ask that they please install BAC level tests at all lift stations. Or ban skiing.

  51. dave eckardt February 24th, 2010 2:35 pm

    It’s not good to shut down the happy spirit, still it sounds like a problem up there, but a good problem. The skier getting in the face of the cat driver messed things up, so now a compromise will have to be reached. I’ve noticed some night skiers putting a red strobe on to alert the cat drivers on another ski area. I will ponder this question on my uphill on Snowmass this afternoon…

  52. Plinko February 24th, 2010 2:41 pm

    Lou, I’m on your side. That was a copy/paste from an email repose from Donnie Cap at WMR.

    The Facebook link she included has lots comments from irked individuals over the last few days. Surely they could have done more to solicite ideas for a better solution.

    I keep hearing that this is only temporary. Where have I heard that before? Oh right, from my local politicains regarding tax hikes. Then as soon as the temporary measure is set to expire, it’s replaced by a permanant “solution”.

    Let’s hope WMR does the right thing and steps up to the plate with a better solution.

  53. Lou February 24th, 2010 2:46 pm

    He he, taxes, very good example!

    I’ll edit my comment so it doesn’t imply you are the party line.

  54. dave downing February 24th, 2010 3:05 pm

    @lou. Regarding the Alcohol argument.


    Seems a precedent was set here that the drunk skier is responsible for their actions when colliding with another skier. Regarding heavy equipment and a sober skier, what is precedent for that? Do we know yet?

    I would say they are very different instances. There is also the case of being liable for a paying customer and a non-paying customer. Risk v. Profit must be considered if you want the resort to stay open at all. Correct?

    Regarding Ski Sunlight, I didn’t recall ever hearing more about an uphill policy then “pick up your dog’s crap.” Sounds more official now, do you know where to find details on their complete policy. Might be a good one to follow…

  55. dave downing February 24th, 2010 3:07 pm

    note, i do not claim the defendant in the above link was fairly punished, but that he was viewed as responsible.

  56. gringo February 24th, 2010 3:07 pm

    …so they don’t have to worry about getting sued if some nighttime skier cuts himself in half on a winch cable…

    man i love europe!!

  57. dave downing February 24th, 2010 3:16 pm

    I think the solution is drunk skinning and skiing. Just get loaded before heading up and the mtn isn’t liable for your actions. The stube gets rich. And painful injuries are pre-medicated. It’s a win-win-win!

  58. David Boye February 24th, 2010 3:53 pm


    Can I get a free T-shirt or something for providing you with the most captivating topic of the year so far? That might make me feel a bit better about all this 🙂

  59. Lou February 24th, 2010 4:20 pm

    David, I don’t know, I wouldn’t want someone being arrested for illegal upskiing while wearing a WildSnow logo!

  60. Lou February 24th, 2010 4:22 pm

    Dave really has a good mind. Drunk uphilling puts you under the auspices of the skier safety act, and thus the resort is liable for nothing that happens to you. Perfect.

    Gad, makes your realize how absurd the resort’s reaction to this is.

  61. Donnie Clapp February 24th, 2010 4:36 pm

    Groomers and snowmobiles are in a class separate from all other dangers, from a liability standpoint. Our insurance reps have told us that any collision between a skier and one of these pieces of equipment, regardless of who was to blame, whether the equipment was moving or at a standstill, whether the danger was signed or unsigned, and whether the operator was following protocol or not, will most likely result in some liability being assigned to the resort in the case of a lawsuit. There are many past cases, both settled and those that have gone to court, which support this claim.

    That is pretty frightening if you’re trying to figure out a hiking policy that combines what is sometimes hundreds of after-hours hikers with an entire fleet of groomers and snowmobiles, especially when some subset of those hikers have shown a proven and increasing affinity for being way too close to those pieces of equipment.

    Just to clarify, the release mentions the most recent near-miss incident regarding a skier and a winch cat cable, but that was not the first this season, or even this month. Incidents involving people skiing next to or in front of regular groomers, even after being asked to stop, have been too numerous to count in the last couple of years.

    I don’t think there is a single person that is happy it came to this.

    Donnie Clapp
    Public Relations Manager and occasional after-hours hiker, WMR

  62. dave downing February 24th, 2010 4:36 pm

    knew you’d like that one lou 🙂

    i would suggest hard liquor over beer for this everyone, as the weight savings are well worth the hangover.

  63. Lou February 24th, 2010 4:43 pm

    Thanks Donnie, very interesting, I guess I’ll have to think of another analogy instead of drunk skiing, Dave? WildSnow brain trust? What dangerous activity does the resort allow that’s no more liability exposing to them than uphilllers doing after hours skiing, but would result in banning skiing, all things being equal? I guess drunk skiing is out. Perhaps skiing without helmets? Ban all skiers because some ski without helmets and thus expose resort to liability?

  64. Plinko February 24th, 2010 4:49 pm

    Donnie says, “I don’t think there is a single person that is happy it came to this.”

    Then DO something about it! Specifically, do something that’s effective (and not completely overboard the way the current rules are) and doesn’t punish the 99% of the respectful users for the abuses of the >1% inconsiderate ones.

    Better solutions abound. YOU have the power to change this into something positive.

  65. David Boye February 24th, 2010 5:06 pm

    Lou, you are smart, and think of everything. You better not risk sending me the T-shirt, for your own protection. Of course, no one is REALLY going to poach climb the mountain after this policy is established, that would be illegal…

  66. Lou February 24th, 2010 5:06 pm

    It occurs to me that some of this communication from the resort sounds like whining. Heck, their job is to manage fairly high risk recreation and make money from it. They did that with snowboarding when it came up — and they do it with downhill skiing for cripes sake! How about they use their expertise and resources to take the same approach to night uphilling? Banning it just seems incredibly crazy to me, no matter what the justifications are. I’ve seen and done too much of it to believe there is no solution other than banning.

  67. Lou February 24th, 2010 5:08 pm

    David, what cracks me up about these sorts of things is you can bet your treasure that the mountain will be poached aplenty. Making rules is one thing, enforcing them quite another. Look at leash laws. What a joke.

    By their very actions the resort is indicating they don’t care about personal safety, only about liability exposure. If they cared about safety, they’d figure out a way to allow night uphilling while keeping it safe. Instead, they ban it and some person poaching without a headlamp skis into a ditch and breaks their neck, but the poacher can’t sue because they were doing something illegal. Resort is off the hook but they guy has a broken neck. Hmmmmm

  68. David Boye February 24th, 2010 5:11 pm

    AMEN Brother, and let us pray for “Big-brother” to just back-off a bit!

  69. Bill Love February 24th, 2010 5:17 pm

    I was really saddened when i heard of the new policy- one of the things that impressed us before we moved and our guests comment on is the number of people choosing to climb the Big. We see all kinds of folks, young, old etc. It says great things about our community and is a valuable amenity.

    Personally I really enjoy going up at night. I always stay out of the way of mountain ops and let them know of my presence with lights. Unfortunately some folks are stupid- hopefully word gets around as to who these morons are.

    One thing i think that is improperly portrayed is that there is a large economic reason for the up hill travel. Most of the people i know who skin are pass-holders, they skin for exercise or because they can’t get out during the day. The mountain provides a more predictable, safer resource for a night jaunt than skinning up a refrozen glade somewhere in the woods. I have a pass and have always felt that some of my money goes toward having this resource available.

    I had not realized that the interactions had become so sketchy- why was there no attempt at a dialog and some peer enforcement?- instead straight to a new regulation.

    How does this affect someone climbing to flower point/canyon creek? during the week there is no downhill travel in the area one would be climbing -but it appears prohibited. Similarly coming back from skooks or canyon late in the day- now prohibited?

    Hopefully this changes and forces the discussion which should have occurred.

  70. Lou February 24th, 2010 5:23 pm

    Bill, yeah, the resorts have to face it. Upskiing is incredibly fun and perfect for a workout when you love skiing but don’t want to deal with difficult backcountry snow or access issues, or want to go solo and be close to civilization. I don’t think the resorts as a whole, nor the USFS, realize how compelling the activity is, nor how much potential it has. But my recollection is they (as a whole) treated snowboarding the same way… history repeats itself.

  71. Donnie Clapp February 24th, 2010 6:17 pm

    Lou —

    We don’t care more about liability than personal safety, but we do care about liability. We have to. The costs associated with it are too high to ignore. We don’t like that it works that way in this country any more than you do, but that doesn’t make it not true.

    Do we know that it is a small minority of people doing stupid things? Yes. Have we figured out a way to separate those people by sight from the responsible hikers? No. Can we wait until the next time someone skis over a buried winch cable under tension to figure out who they are? No, that would be irresponsible, because the next time might be the time that kills them. That is the predicament we’re in.

    No one knows what the long-term solution will be, and we’re open to suggestions. But for now, this is the only thing we could come up with that solves that predicament.


  72. Plinko February 24th, 2010 6:44 pm


    You’re so busy defending your decision and rationale for that decision that you’ve stopped searching for any better solutions to the matter. It is still very much unresolved and requires a solution.

    On the Facebook discussion you stated, “I have come to believe that most of the really dangerous after-hours stuff going on is being perpetrated not by people who don’t know better, but by people who are doing it to spite us, or the USFS, or someone; I’m not sure. They know it’s dangerous. They are just angry at us, for whatever reason, and do not believe we have the right to tell them what to do. They have therefore decided to do whatever they can to taunt the groomers, disregard their pleas, and so on. In other words, I suspect that most of the small group of people ruining this for the rest of us have basically been doing it on purpose.”

    WMR clearly has a problem with these individuals. No amount of rule making is going to stop people like this and firm enforcement becomes mandatory.

    But instead of apprehending/prosecuting these individuals, you’re punishing the ENTIRE community, with ripple effects that surely will be felt as other ski areas take into consideration the matter of effectively managing uphill traffic. Thus, the entire sport of uphill skiing is now going to be punished for the actions of these individuals. You’re letting the actions of a wayward few dictate the rules that will influence the whole of our sport!

  73. Lou February 24th, 2010 7:00 pm

    I call this the “kindergarten” effect. Teachers have a habit of punishing whole groups or grade classes for the sins of a few. I guess they’re trying to manipulate peer pressure. It’s a very immature and shortsighted way of dealing with a problem. It’s like saying, “a group of you are having automobile accidents and taunting other drivers with your road rage, this is causing a safety issue, therefore we are closing the highway.”

    Donnie, I understand that your job is to defend the decision, and you make some good points, but from what I’m hearing there must be some other solution. This decision to close the highway, to put it bluntly, has a distinct odor.

  74. Plinko February 24th, 2010 7:29 pm

    Please take a moment to contact:

    Becky Smith-Powell
    Recreation resource assistant for the Tally Lake Ranger District

    Dan Graves
    Whitefish Mountain Resort CEO

    Please, please voice your opinion but be polite! Poor etiquette is what started this whole mess.

  75. Rob February 24th, 2010 7:48 pm

    The “buried winch cable under tension” thing is getting riducuolous . This is an EXTREMELY isolated incident. Not a rational concern in the long run.

  76. Warren Lane February 24th, 2010 8:09 pm

    I teach. The easiest way to get a group mad at you is punish the whole class for the deeds of a few. Anyone with behavior management experience will tell you an action such as regulating skinning will offend the concept of fairness of the larger community. So two items.
    If you are going to spend resources to regulate offenders then why not regulate those who are actually doing something offensive such as interfering with grooming operations.
    Second. Safety? i would much rather skin after hours and avoid groomers than skin during operating hours and avoid bombers racing to the bottom of the hill. just some thoughts.

  77. Lou February 24th, 2010 8:28 pm

    It would be interesting to compare the number of skiers killed by other skiers, as opposed to the number killed by groomers.

  78. Frank K February 24th, 2010 9:54 pm

    Having just visited Whitefish for the first time a couple of days ago, I personally thought the uphill situation there was pretty crazy. People going right up the middle of runs on Yaktrax, skins, snowshoes- it was an accident waiting to happen, especially given the high quality of their groomed runs and the speeds you could attain on them.

    I think Crested Butte has it right- the uphill pass is free, you just have to go get one. When you do, they let you know which routes you can take, where you can’t go if they are doing avalanche control, where cats and snowmobilies are most likely to be seen, etc. I would assume that doing so at least lowers CBMR’s liability.

    Hopefully WMR can figure something out over the summer, but I can’t blame them for doing what they are doing in the interim.

  79. Randonnee February 24th, 2010 10:44 pm

    Can’t agree with the tone here or Lou’s arguments. In spite of the fact that I avoid ski areas after working at a ski area over 16 years, I agree with the Area and the risk management arguments here. The risk management implications are very real and are potentially financially devastating to the Operator because of our finicky legal system. The Permit Area is no longer our Publc Land in the same sense, it is the responsibility of the Operator and under the control of the Operator. Would this group demand to do something like roller-blading after hours at an indoor shopping mall? That would make about as much sense as what is being demanded here.

  80. brian February 24th, 2010 11:44 pm

    Thanks for the link to the pr person at the resort. I wrote my letter and don’t even live there. I was there for the rando event last year and loved the town and community. My wife and I even talked about the merits of relocating there, putting it on the “short list” and all. However, I would say it dropped down a few notches with this latest move.

    Interestingly, one of the most corporate areas in the country, Sun Valley, has dealt with this issue very nicely with a video on winch cat etiquette and safety on their website. Bravo, Sun Valley! Seems like a much more sensible solution.

  81. David February 24th, 2010 11:55 pm

    These lands don’t seem to be as public as before. These actions don’t seem to increase anyone’s freedom. I appreciate how these decisions can be rationalized by well meaning folk, but this policy is cowardly.

  82. Randonnee February 25th, 2010 12:06 am

    Would folks here want to pay a fee enough for control and monitoring of uphill skiing activity? Conversely and in the spirit of the general argument here, why don’t you all argue that the public should just take turns running lifts and groomers and then the downhill ski ticket would be very inexpensive for those who help? That is similar to your argument that the general public should self-monitor in a Permit Area. The responsibility remains with the Operator and not with those wanting to freeload a facility developed with investment from the Permit holder, who also is responsible for all within that Permit area, and responsible for the costs involved.

  83. Bill Love February 25th, 2010 12:45 am

    did you read my posting?
    most of the people i know pay for the service/ and have signed a release- we bought seasons passes

    i understand the safety and liability issues-but believe they can be addressed

    i think a lot of the stink from the community- and its just starting, is the feeling that this was done without public input. First i new of it was a small article in the local paper last thurs, saying a policy was being considered-on Monday it was announced.

    I think folks who don’t live here don’t understand the attraction to skinning/climbing it. It is a social thing and it is our gym. We don’t have nearly as much high elevation access as most ski resort regions-at least without a sled.

  84. Lou February 25th, 2010 7:46 am

    Rando does have a point, in that the rights of a permit holder are an axiomatic part of this situation. In other words, where the system is perhaps flawed is in the Special Use Permit system itself. And of course another flaw inherent in the situation is the resort’s legitimate paranoia about lawsuits. On the other hand, while I totally understand the resort’s point of view, it would take some mighty strong convincing to get me thinking there wasn’t another solution to their safety and liability concerns about people being on the ski runs at night, during uphilling sessions.

    Thanks everyone for bringing up examples of how other resorts are coping with the uphilling phenomenon. Mark my words, this is only the beginning.

  85. Concerned about Nick February 25th, 2010 5:25 pm

    Nicholas —

    When you say, “I sure hope you don’t force ski patrol to enforce this corporate policy, it would put them at risk, ” are you threatening violence against ski patrollers?

    Would you perhaps also be inclined to get aggressive with a grooming operator if he asked you not to ski under his winch cable?

    Attitudes like yours are the reason all this is going on, methinks.


  86. nicholas knutson February 25th, 2010 4:39 pm

    I don’t hike up every day like some of the hardcore telemark skiers do, but sometimes I put my board on my pack and hike up safely and in plain sight of downhill skiers and snowboarders. Everybody has a right to use the Big Mountain. Isolated incidents like the winch cat and the disrespectful, uneducated skier do not justify the lease holders actions. The land ultimately belongs to the People of Montana. The people own the land and the FS are servants who are allowed to manage it. Equality is paramount and mandatory in law and this is discrimination towards the people who have a right to access the Big Mountain territory. No legal notices were issued, no public input was requested or taken. I believe that if they make a special amendment to 36 cfr 261.53 E without public notice or communication, they would have a bigger liability on their hands than if someone skied into a groomer. The groomer incidents are sensationalized but safety is a valid concern. Using spin in the papers is no way to accomplish your safety goals. The existing law will be difficult if not impossible to enforce in a court of law. You will have to prove without a doubt that the skier, boarder, hunter or hiker was creating a safety issue. You can not label all hikers in an area or zone a danger. The nice people I meet while hiking up there are some of the most experienced and safety oriented people on the mountain. They are not a significant problem. Whitefish Resort is creating the problem.

    Education and Communication is the way to work with the people. Forcing codified statute without proper representation of the people is unconstitutional and unethical.

    You haven’t made an official legal notice as of yet, so hopefully you will realize the conflict you created with the people of Montana and our land. There is time for you to do the right thing and work with the public to educate hikers and not force the feds down our throats.

    I sure hope you don’t force ski patrol to enforce this corporate policy, it would put them at risk. The ski patrol does a great job on the mountain and I respect each and every one of them. Their job is not to police uphill hikers, they are far to busy saving lives. Don’t use them as cannon fodder.

    Hopefully we can resolve this both legally and peacefully. Why not talk to our state representative to form a law that prevents people from skiing, hiking or boarding within 100 meters of a snow cat or groomer?

    Nicholas L Knutson
    Big Mountain Montana

  87. Plinko February 25th, 2010 7:49 pm


    How do you read a threat out of Nicholas’ comments??

    He’s clearly showing respect for them, “The ski patrol does a great job on the mountain and I respect each and every one of them. Their job is not to police uphill hikers, they are far too busy saving lives.”

  88. dan molnar February 25th, 2010 10:28 pm

    in 92 i nearly took off an uphill skiers head on an early morning schuss of ajax. we probaly both would of died had we collided. i skied right to the mountain manager to report how dangerous uphill skiers were. “downhill skier has the right of way” he said. i still dont buy it. uphillers simply need to get off the hill before the first lifts unload.
    uphill sking on an open ski resort is as dumb as sending your kid out on the freeway to play.

  89. nicholas knutson February 26th, 2010 2:44 am


    You just used the same spin propaganda the Whitefish Resort used. Law enforcement is a very dangerous profession. Our men and women of the Big Mountain Ski patrol are highly skilled in their own profession but have no experience in LAW ENFORCEMENT. Having a bunch of civilians enforce questionable federal laws on the soil that actually belongs to the people of Montana would be a bad decision and a liability. The groomers have already dealt with rude and disrespectful people on the mountain and they don’t get paid enough to deal with that. Nor are they trained to do so. My point was that the corporation really seems clueless and unconcerned about the people and more concerned about development and lawsuits. Ask any law enforcement officer and they will tell you that it’s a position where you risk your life every day.

    Do you honestly think I would be so stupid as to put my name and location online and threaten the ski patrol who watches over me? You really are a zombie or something. Maybe part sheep.

    There are existing state laws that would prevent the type of behavior that was mentioned by the whitefish resort. All they had to do was document it and call it in to the sheriffs department. There is an interlocal agreement between the FS (who manages and DOES NOT OWN the big mountain) and the FLATHEAD SHERIFFS DEPARTMENT. Any dangerous behavior should be reported by the whitefish resort staff and dealt with by professionals.

    I appreciate your concerns about me but they are unwarranted. You really need to go hiking some day and work out your body and mind. You may think clearer next time before you accuse somebody of something so ridiculous.

    Nicholas Knutson
    Big Mountain Montana

  90. nicholas knutson February 26th, 2010 2:52 am

    I understand your concerns. This is not private land and it is owned by the public so equality is mandatory. If you allow access for one group, all others must have the same benefits. Restricting hikers in Montana on our land will only cause problems. Education and communication is the only way to make the mountain safer.

    Uphill skiers are only a very small problem with the safety concerns on the mountain. Every day I see ski school, skiers, snowboarders and especially snow ambassadors creating safety hazard. Stopping in the middle of a run to teach a class or point something out, not looking before taking off, not yielding, blind spots and out of control skiing far exceed the dangers of hikers using their land.

    We need to help each other out and educate people who are clueless to the skier responsibility code. Everybody needs to work on this.

  91. CookieMonster February 26th, 2010 3:37 am

    Occasionally skin up Crystal Mountain resort in Washington. Mountain management allows uphill travel ( in some places ) and ski patrol are supportive. But if they said “no more”, I’d stop without argument and I wouldn’t get angry.

    When I was new to Washington and lacked regular ski partners, I went to Crystal and actually paid for lift tickets on days that I skinned inside the resort … because I assumed that payment was required to ski at their area. As I was traveling alone, I also fully expected that ski patrol would help a paying customer in the event I sustained an injury.

    It’s nice to be able to use the public/private services infrastructure at a resort, and I think the resorts should charge a fee for uphill travel during operating hours. The remarks in this thread about the eventual acceptance of snowboards in North American resorts are right on the money. Uphill travel will be allowed, and there will be a fee to use the runs.

    I don’t understand why people are so angry about being unable to ski after hours. Downhill skiers aren’t allowed to ski after hours either. If people are serious about uphill travel at WMR, then I’m sure they’ll talk to management and work out a plan.

    Isn’t this comment thread a bit hilarious!? Backcountry skiers fighting for the right to ski in-bounds hardpack!

  92. Nicholas Knutson February 26th, 2010 5:17 am

    Cookie Monster,

    Based on your comments I believe I can safely assume you have never hiked Big Mountain or even visited here. I may be wrong. This is not a hilarious matter at all.

    This is not just about being able to skin up on groomers. It is about a corporation who tried to force laws on the rightful owners of the land using the forest service as a tool to enforce the policy they deemed necessary. Well, you can’t just do that.

    The Mountain was founded by great men who fully intended public access to be preserved on our land. If you wanted to avoid hiking up, you paid your dues and got a ride up on a nice tow rope. Then came the lifts. The same rights apply to us today. This unlawful policy not only affects the skiers and boarders but also restricts land usage to the people who just want to hunt, hike or camp on their land.

    This is not California and we won’t just sit back and be complacent with regulations that were not authorized by the people. You can not regulate the people without their consent.

    If you notice our geography here, there are several areas of mountainous terrain that funnel people into certain access points. Form the get go, the corporations that lease the Big Mountain from the people understand that they must legally maintain a right of way for the public to access their land. The corporation owns the land in the village but not the acreage that is leased. A state road leads you to the mountain as well. There are thousands upon thousands of acres of land that can be accessed on the back side of the mountain and restricting people from using the front side (inbound terrain) at any time or place would be illegal in many experts opinions. They are using a safety clause to restrict hikers. That’s complete bull crap. Equality is absolutely necessary. Selective enforcement is uncool.

    Once they attempt to force this policy on people, lawsuits and challenges will be full throttle. The methods they used to attempt to prevent their liability issues were not legit and they know it. I talked to Becky Powell today and she seemed very nervous about me asking if they were to modify any orders or produce any statutes (law). She said that at this time nothing has changed. So, on the 1st we will see what happens. I fully expect the locals to hike on public land in protest. This will be done peacefully, safely and lawfully. The mountain has a great legal team, so they say. We have a great State Constitution and representatives. Furthermore, most of the people I know that skin up are pretty well off and wouldn’t mind donating time and money to help protect public access.

    I think I have pretty much said all I can on this subject now.

    PEOPLE, don’t sit back on this one. If you do, you will loose your rights by tacit procuration. Don’t be a slacker. The founders of this mountain would expect you to stick up for your rights.

    Nicholas Knutson
    Big Mountain Montana
    406 885 1812

  93. Geoff February 26th, 2010 5:49 am


    while I understand your arguments and appreciate your (and everybodys) openness and civility in this debate, I think your legal arguments will not make very much progress. Having worked for several organizations which operated on FS land under Special Use Permits, and experiencing the renewal process of one, I think that there are already responses to most of your points.

    Regarding the “discrimination” of certain users from public land, most SUPs, to my knowledge, explicity allow the leaseholder to this under certain circumstances. For example, ski areas (in Colorado at least) are allowed to block access to FS terrain to ALL users due to avalanche concerns/clearance, and loggers are allowed to block access to hikers in areas where trees are being cut. I imagine that WMR also already has a clause in their SUP allowing them to take similar actions for “safety” reasons, meaning the time to protest this was when that was being renewed.

    As to law enforcement, I agree that patrollers should not act as LEOs. However, when I worked at a hut for the AMC in NH, we were also tasked with looking out for people camping illegally (such as in protected areas). If we found someone breaking the law, the procedure was to inform the FS, who would then send their LEO up to cite/arrest the offender. That way the lease holder would not act in a “policeman” function.

    And regarding public comment, I also think there should have been an opportunity for this, but if pressed, the company or FS will probably say that this situation was an “emergency” and cite some clause or another saying they don’t have to obtain public input now as long as they do so before a more “permanent” rule is enforced. I think this is where the locals should put the most effort in.

    I know I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I do use FS land in other locations, and I also have seen that FS legal teams watch situations like this closely and communicate with each other. I would hate to see SUPs in other areas with less vigilant locals give more power to ski areas as a result of lawsuits in this case.

    Geoff Chase
    Freiburg, Germany (but soon White Mountains, USA!)

  94. Werner Koch February 26th, 2010 7:26 am

    Hi there!
    The same issue has been heavily discussed in the Austrian alps. In Austria the number of active skiers dropped by 30 % in 10 years (that explains our results at the Olympics…) while around 5 % of the population are backcountry skiers! In a small ski resort near Innsbruck they counted 2500 peolpe skinning up per day. As manufacturer of climbign skins we do not worry about this….
    To inform skiiers about where to go and when to go, we have pubished a little book containing 16 ski-tours on pistes (in existing or former ski areas) Some resorts closed the lift in recent years but stil groom the piste for skitouring!
    Here’s the link to download the brochure just in case you speak german:


    We printed 15000 brochures, handing them out for free at local retailers, alpine clubs and tourist informations, all were gone within 2 months!

    Keep the mountains free!

  95. Lou February 26th, 2010 8:57 am

    Werner, is Kellerjoch where they counted 2,500 skinners? Someone pointed out the place to me when I was there, but I can’t remember the name.

  96. Werner Koch February 26th, 2010 9:17 am

    Hi Lou, no, this was the Muttereralm, marked “B2” on the map on the last page of the brochure. The Kellerjoch is just outside the territory we covered in the bruchure, a further to the east.

  97. Lou February 26th, 2010 12:11 pm

    Found it, south of Innsbruck, west of the A13 ?

  98. Rob Ratkowski February 26th, 2010 3:27 pm

    If you’re directly affected by the WMR uphill restrictions, We have about 25 people to date who are interested in creating a non-profit organization to consolidate our message and negotiate with resort management for safe, common-sense uphill travel policies.

  99. TR February 26th, 2010 10:59 pm

    Breckenridge has done a good job of facilitating uphill travel in a safe manner. They set up a winch cat hot line. Before skinning, I call to find out what runs the winch will be running on and avoid those areas.

  100. Lou February 27th, 2010 8:32 am

    TR, it does seem quite simple to deal with this stuff… I wonder why Breck doesn’t have the same liability concerns that Whitefish does? State laws, perhaps?

  101. Dylan February 27th, 2010 11:09 pm

    Someone asked about Sunlight’s official policy… We just ask that you don’t hike in the middle of the runs during business hours, watch out for snowcats and people skiing downhill and pick up after your dog (No dogs are allowed during business hours, and we have yet to hire an after hours dog catcher for violators 🙂 ). We prefer that you use hikers’ left of Sunking and Rebel. We would like everyone to pick up a FREE hiker’s pass in Guest Services that has these points printed on it and a copy of the Colorado Skier Act on the back.

    We also suggest (at night) that you ski down the run you hiked up so you’ll be familiar with the terrain in case there are any obstacles, like race course features.

    Everyone has been doing a good job of being respectful of our downhill traffic, so ‘thank you’ to you all. Call me if you have any questions. -Dylan 970.947.5156

  102. Wade February 28th, 2010 9:20 am

    At 6PM tonight we are gathering for the last after hours legal trip up Whitefish. I expect there will be many people showing up.
    The comment posted as representing a groomer up at Wfhish reveals one of the cores of the issue: an apparent conflict between one or more WMR employees and one or more uphill travelers. I remember years ago sitting in the Great Northern and hearing the bitching about those damned A.T. guys poaching the brand new courdoroy.
    This policy impacts me two ways: 1. I work 50 hours a week and don’t have a lot of weekday time for fitness. When I’m pressed for time on weekends, I sometimes go the “on mountain” route for convenience as pointed out before.
    2. After DST, March 14, a Wednesday night skin up the hill and ride down at sunset is one of my dearest held traditions! It kept a fitness regimen going for me going in to shoulder season, and gave me an opportunity to celebrate longer daylight. It just doesn’t compare to an elliptical trainer at the club.

  103. nicholas knutson February 28th, 2010 10:50 am

    See you all up there. Owen and I will be representing the knuckle draggers. Should be up there at 8.

    Call your friends and ask them to come along. The sky will be awesome!

  104. nicholas knutson February 28th, 2010 12:13 pm

    oops, only a month off but at least we will still have a full moon. 🙂

    space cadet!

  105. nicholas knutson March 2nd, 2010 5:26 am


    New press release…

    Whitefish Mountain Resort to Include Formal Comment Period in Uphill Traffic Policy

    WHITEFISH, Mont. — Whitefish Mountain Resort announced today that it will be asking for written comments and suggestions pertaining to its new winter uphill traffic policy through April 4, 2010, the last day of ski season.

    After announcing the policy last week, the resort received a high volume of feedback from members of the public, as did the US Forest Service. Much of the input received has centered around finding a way to allow safe uphill traffic in the early evening hours, as well as ways to allow the public an opportunity to comment on the new policy.

    “We’ve all been talking to a lot of people, on the phone, on web sites like Facebook, through email, and in person, and have come across some good ideas. We feel that it will be beneficial to formalize that communication process,” said Whitefish Mountain Resort Public Relations Manager Donnie Clapp.

    The resort has put the current policy, available at skiwhitefish.com/uphill, into effect. If a safety hazard is identified within the resort’s permit boundary, the resort has an obligation to respond, as specified in its special use permit with the Flathead National Forest. However, resort officials hope to receive ideas through this new process that will lead to a policy that is more amenable to all three parties involved: the resort, the USFS, and users who enjoy participating in uphill traffic.

    “We’re not completely satisfied with this policy, and neither are our users.” said Clapp. “We had to put something in place quickly, because there was some very dangerous activity going on that needs to stop, but we’re very open to improving it.”

    For input from this process to be helpful, resort officials say it will need to provide ideas for solving the problems of safety and liability faced by the resort and the USFS.

    “Many people have been telling us that evening is the best time of day for hiking the mountain, and that it is a valuable amenity for the community. We couldn’t agree more. It is something that absolutely should be allowed in an ideal world, but unless we figure out how to mitigate the dangerous activities that have been going on, we’re not going to be able to get very far towards that ideal.”

    Dangerous activity reported this season related to uphill traffic includes skiing close to grooming machines; hiking and skiing near, underneath, or over winch cables; hiking in the middle of open ski runs instead of off to one side; hiking on narrow, winding trails with blind corners or trails with blind roll-overs, which risks collisions with other skiers as well as grooming equipment after-hours; hiking and skiing in areas that are undergoing avalanche control work; skiing groomed snow that has not had time to set up, which can sometimes leave deep ruts that are dangerous for the next day’s skiers; and hiking and skiing over or near high-voltage electrical cables and high-pressure water lines that are used in conjunction with making artificial snow.

    The majority of evening uphill participants act responsibly and do not pose significant safety concerns, according to resort management. However, the current policy and any subsequent versions must address the minority who are endangering themselves and others.

    In addition to written comments, the resort will be paying close attention to how well the current policy is followed by uphill users.

    “If we can come up with a way to allow uphill access in the evenings, it will almost definitely involve relying on the uphill community to police itself, and to educate and correct those that aren’t following the rules,” said Clapp. “So we’re very interested to see how well that community does with the current rules.”

    All input received during the public comment period will be shared with the USFS. After the ski season ends, a process of cataloging and analyzing the input will begin. The resort and the USFS will re-evaluate the uphill traffic policy in the off-season and announce any revisions prior to next year’s ski season.

    To submit a comment or suggestion pertaining to uphill traffic within Whitefish Mountain Resort’s Special Permit Boundary, please send written submissions to:

    Whitefish Mountain Resort
    attn: Uphill Traffic Policy
    PO Box 1400
    Whitefish, MT 59937


  106. Fumunda March 2nd, 2010 2:04 pm

    I am a Whitefish local and an avid backcounry skier. I can understand that people’s feelings are hurt over this whole ordeal. When I was little, my mom took away my video games because I threw the controller at the TV. I didn’t think it was fair and I pouted about it for a while. Nobody likes to have something taken away from them, especially when it’s something that they truly enjoy. But guess what… It’s gonna be okay everyone, life will move on without being able to skin up a groomed resort.
    Has anyone from the Whitefish area noticed all of the other epic mountains when they were at the top of WMR? Go climb one of those! It will be a way better accomplishent than climbing a groomed resort! But few will actually do this I’m guessing. Why? Because their are a lot of risks that one takes upon themselves when hiking at night in the backcountry. Well, there are hazards for the skinner and the resort when you hike at night as already mentioned.
    If this is such a passionate issue for some of you, why don’t you form an organized group of backcountry night skiers and find a few places to hike close to town on a regular basis somewhere other than WMR? The night time views from the Middle Fork and Jewel Basin are way better than WMRs!
    I think that this is a reasonable restriction, and honestly wouldn’t be disappointed if they restricted all uphill travel during hours of operation. I am tired of dodging hikers in the middle of Tony Matt who purposely hike up the middle of the run. It’s only a matter of time before a serious colision happens on that run. Until then, I will continue to use hikers that skin up the middle as GS course gates! Stick to the side of the run and I don’t mind uphillers at all though.

  107. nicholas knutson March 2nd, 2010 2:39 pm

    Who are you Fumunda? The Montanans I know who were raised here in the valley are pretty conservative and really don’t like federal restrictions on public property. You are for giving up your rights on public land? Something needed to be done about the morons, but this is overboard and not in the interest of the people of Montana. The State of Montana and it’s people need to assert their rights to use our public lands inside the boarders of Montana. I really didn’t care for the people who would hike right up the middle of the run while I was laying out a turn at mach ten. I would stop and ask them to use the sides. Communication really works.
    Nicholas knutson

  108. Plinko March 2nd, 2010 3:51 pm

    “If we can come up with a way to allow uphill access in the evenings, it will almost definitely involve relying on the uphill community to police itself, and to educate and correct those that aren’t following the rules,” said Clapp. “So we’re very interested to see how well that community does with the current rules.”

    So according to the PR above, WMR expects the general public to now remedy their bad apple situation??
    This is completely inappropriate. Helping educate others people who are clueless to the skier responsibility code? Sure, why not. But correcting others is going too far.

    I’m a backcountry skier, and as such, I take upon myself all the normal duties of the ski patrol when I go out, including avalanche mitigation, medical/rescue training and more. They, however, are NOT law enforcement officers, and neither am I. Spreading the word is one thing. Policing others is another.

    The root and real problem here is that a VERY small minority are flippantly disregarding the rules of safety already in place. These are people who, for whatever reason, are going out of their way to thumb their nose at WMR officials.

    These individuals need to be dealt with by WMR management through the USFS enforcement protocol. As Nicolas K stated earlier, “There are existing state laws that would prevent the type of behavior that was mentioned by the Whitefish Resort. All they had to do was document it and call it in to the sheriffs department. There is an interlocal agreement between the FS and the FLATHEAD SHERIFFS DEPARTMENT. Any dangerous behavior should be reported by the whitefish resort staff and dealt with by professionals.” This was already established and gives authority to disciple those causing the problem. WMR management cannot expect the public to enforce this.

    WMR needs to let USFS law enforcement deal with the problem accordingly, and let the rest of us ski.

    Making more rules will not stop this type of offender; the same way added laws will not dissuade criminals from robbing convenience stores. It’s already against the law. Making more legislation only wastes law makers’ time and creates added pressure on the law abiding people of the community.

    Instead of focusing in on the real problem, WMR has effectively dropped a nuclear bomb on someone throwing stones, and that kind of unchecked response comes with a great deal of collateral damage.

    Deal with the REAL problem individual(s) and in a way that doesn’t punish the community!

    WRM seems to be approaching this as if they are the only ski area in the world. Uphill travel is NOT something new. It is NOT something isolated to the Whitefish ski area. This is common practice in Europe (as Werner stated above) and all over the United States. As Brian mentioned above on Feb 24, “Sun Valley, has dealt with this issue very nicely with a video on winch cat etiquette and safety on their website. Bravo, Sun Valley! Seems like a much more sensible solution.”

    Effective policies DO exist and ARE in place, and there are plenty of positive examples of ski areas doing it right from which to draw an effective solution.

  109. Lou March 2nd, 2010 5:13 pm

    This must be a joke. Next thing you know, they’ll be getting rid of the ski patrol and asking the lift skiers to police themselves. Is this really happening? Pinch me.

  110. nicholas knutson March 2nd, 2010 5:25 pm

    Here is a response from Becky, a federal agent I emailed with some questions I had.
    Nicholas, Please review the answers to your questions below. Hopefully, I answered them to your satisfaction. Please let me know if you have other concerns or question.

    I was wondering if anything did change lately. How do you plan to enforce this new corporate

    The ski area will enforce this new policy with an in-area closure. In the Whitefish Mountain Resort Operation Plan 2009/2010 under “Run and Area Closures,” Extreme weather (i.e. high winds, cold) or certain snow conditions (i.e. avalanche, reduced snow depths, due to skier traffic, grooming and warm temperatures) may constitute such a level of hazard that operations must be curtailed for a period of time in the affected areas. WSI also has the authority to close the ski area boundary marked with orange and black rope and intermittent signs for public safety reason. They will inform the snow ranger when it occurs. So in the case of night time grooming, they will be using an in-area closure to enforce their new policy.

    It appears that subsection E would apply to the individual and would have to be challenged on an individual basis.

    I’m not familiar with subsection E? Are you referring to Title 36 Code of Federal Regulations Schedule of Collateral; Subpart B Prohibitions in Areas Designated by Order? If so, the district will not be writing a special order at this time. Instead the in-area closure will be enforced by WSI through education, signing, patrols and enforcement.

    Will you be posting federal agents on the Big Mountain to enforce the new policy?

    The enforcement of the new Winter Uphill Policy is the responsibility of the permittee. The Mountain may request a federal officer to assist in enforcement if there is a need.

    Has any effort been made yet to get some sort of discussion group together in order to come to a logical
    solution for our lease holders liability issues?

    Whitefish Mountain Resort has asked the public for their comments in a news release dated 3/1/2010 from now and until the resort closes for the season , April 4, 2010. All comments are to be directed to the Mountain, the Mountain will forward a copy of every comment to the Forest Service. Once the comment period is complete, the Mountain will reassess their policy and possibly propose changes that would be implemented next season.


    Becky R Smith-Powell, Resource Assistant
    Tally Lake District
    650 Wolfpack Way
    Kalispell, MT. 59901

    406 758-3538
    406 758-3537 fax

  111. SkinSoSafe March 4th, 2010 2:28 am

    Hmmm. Have you requested your personal copy of their permit from Becky?

    “The Ski Area Permit is issued by the US gov. It will always state that “the lands and waters covered by this permit shall remain open to the public for all lawful purposes”. It’s called the Area Access condition. We all know climbing and hiking is lawful so it would seem the ski area has no standing to legally declare no uphill traffic.

    The problem comes when one reads and tries to interpret language elsewhere in the Ski Area Permit and in the Ski Area Operating Plan, which is created by the ski area and approved by the US gov (the Forest Service). This language suggests that considerations for safety will override other aspects of the agreement. A ski area lawyer would argue that public land (the ski area) is covered as legally closeable under that language. I would argue that public closure should be excluded under that language (IOW, if they can’t assure safety for uphill travel folks, they can’t operate legally because it violates the Area Access condition).”

    I have trouble understanding why the entire mountain needs to be closed before or after hours, and pre-season. It seems like to keep us off, all WMR thinks they have to do is is scream “safety” and then they think they have a right to restrict, which they do to a limited extent, ie. where a groomer is operating. But to to suggest that no options on the entire mountain exist because of safety implies that they have not applied the same level of thought to public access as they have to running the resort. They are masters at protocol when it comes to operating a lift, sending ski patrol to an incident, cooking food at a restaurant, etc…but when it comes to managing public access and safety, and the real need to groom and let it set up firm…we seem to be getting…”Great idea, but that’s not possible.”

    I found it near the bottom of this page: http://cascadeclimbers.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/928193/1

  112. Lou March 4th, 2010 8:17 am

    It seems like there is lots of room for interpretation in all this. Thus, the squeaky wheel is going to win. The squeaker seems to be the resort at this time. But a citizens group of pro access folks could easily change that, in my opinion.

  113. Donnie Clapp March 4th, 2010 12:03 pm

    @SkinSoSafe, @Lou –

    That is only half of that clause. In our permit/operating plan, it reads:

    “The lands within the special use permit boundary shall remain open to the public for all lawful purposes; except for any restrictions the resort and Forest Service agree to be necessary as documented in the operating plan.”

    This is such a restriction.

    Donnie Clapp

  114. Donnie Clapp March 4th, 2010 1:43 pm

    Huh? How can typing a quote from a piece of paper that I have in front of me be construed as pretending to be a lawyer?


  115. nicholas knutson March 4th, 2010 12:58 pm

    LOL Donnie Clapp, Montana’s newest BAR card holder!

    Why don’t you tell us about state sovereignty?

  116. Lou March 4th, 2010 2:05 pm

    Donnie, just ignore those types of digs. Everyone, please, no flame war here.

  117. Toby March 4th, 2010 5:44 pm

    When I first piped up on this issue I brought up the legal angle and the leg the resort stands on when issuing restrictions. Seems to me some of you are missing the public aspect of this and more importantly that the public owned land came first, the use of this land is PERMITTED by the owners (John Q Taxpayer). If the primary use of the land is non commercial or more specifically recreational then the restrictions need to start from that premise. When comparing WMR’s approach to other resorts as laid out in this blog thread many of the other resorts seem to restrict with the user (skier, hiker) first in mind and then make those restrictions REASONABLE based on the risks. Closing all access is simply unreasonable and on its face unlawful. I suspect there backstroking on the policy has less to do with public input and more to do with the fact they know there legal stance is shaky…

  118. nicholas knutson March 5th, 2010 12:07 am

    Well Donnie, you are using quotes from the corporation’s contract with the FS. You may see things one way and others will see it another. As a representative of the resort corporation, you probably only see it one way.

    There is no LAW here, only policy. And you will have a difficult time enforcing it when Montanan’s are fierce about their public lands. Here is a good example of the legislation passed by one small group of shooting enthusiasts which protected the people and this state. It asserted our rights and many of them apply to this situation. Imagine the backlash of the community if we do not work on communication and education and keep trying to privatize the mountain.


    Sec 3 (1) “Borders of Montana” means the boundaries of Montana described in Article I, section 1, of the 1889 Montana constitution.

    Sec 2 (1) The 10th amendment to the United States constitution guarantees to the states and their people all powers not granted to the federal government elsewhere in the constitution and reserves to the state and people of Montana certain powers as they were understood at the time that Montana was admitted to statehood in 1889. The guaranty of those powers is a matter of contract between the state and people of Montana and the United States as of the time that the compact with the United States was agreed upon and adopted by Montana and the United States in 1889.

    (2) The ninth amendment to the United States constitution guarantees to the people rights not granted in the constitution and reserves to the people of Montana certain rights as they were understood at the time that Montana was admitted to statehood in 1889. The guaranty of those rights is a matter of contract between the state and people of Montana and the United States as of the time that the compact with the United States was agreed upon and adopted by Montana and the United States in 1889.

    This, on the other hand, is law. So why were the people not included in the governing of their land? I swear that Becky Powell still believes that it’s federally owned land. She really needs to figure out that she is a public servant managing our public land with our consent. You guys need to figure out that the people could actually boot you out of here and you would loose your lease. Accepting comment after the fact is a nice gesture, but not very cool.

    Sorry for the flame, It won’t happen again so long as you don’t keep spinning.


  119. Lou March 5th, 2010 7:11 am

    Nick, your last message wasn’t a flame, thanks for taking the time to write it.

  120. SkiinSoSafe March 5th, 2010 10:13 am

    Here’s a link which provides an overview of Montana’s ski law.


  121. SkiinSoSafe March 5th, 2010 11:41 am

    @Lou, Nick, Donnie,

    Here is a thread from TGR which lists resorts which have evidently addressed uphill travel. The original post is from 2007, but some of the comments include information from only a few weeks ago. It’s a starting point to investigate what other resorts are doing. I believe there are opportunities for everyone to get what they want/need.


    And here is a nice article about some solutions at Breckenridge:


  122. nicholas knutson March 10th, 2010 6:32 am

    Just a reminder to you all. Make sure that you get your friends and family informed and see if they might take the time and write a letter to the whitefish resort. Make sure to send a copy of your letter to the FS as well. Your local and state representatives may also be interested in this. They made up for their public comment by noticing us after POSTING their new policy. It seems very unlawful and tricky. Last time I checked, this is Montana. The land belongs to you. If we have no confidence in the government we allow to manage the forest or the corporations who lease it, the people and state of Montana can protect it’s interest.

    My understanding of the new policy is that it is posted to cover their ass on insurance. They don’t really plan to enforce it unless there is a major problem. This also may be due to the fact that they are unsure of the legal challenges of prosecuting or enforcing corporate policy on public lands.

    The entire thing looks like a great big operation that was terribly composed. A campaign gone terribly wrong.

    Don’t slack off now and become comfortably numb. This thing isn’t over and we need to keep up the communication and work towards our goal of education. Restrictions will only create problems and more liability.

    Nick K.
    Big Mountain Montana

    To submit a comment or suggestion pertaining to uphill traffic within Whitefish Mountain Resort’s Special Permit Boundary, please send written submissions to:

    Whitefish Mountain Resort
    attn: Uphill Traffic Policy
    PO Box 1400
    Whitefish, MT 59937


    Becky Smith-Powell at (406) 863-5438 or brsmith@fs.fed.us.

  123. Lou August 10th, 2010 9:05 am

    Comment left on other thread:

    “..Unrelated to this topic, but following up on Spring of 2010, Whitefish Mountain Resort deserves some GOOD PR for changing their policy on uphill traffic:


  124. nick k (that guy) August 10th, 2010 10:29 am

    Just more propaganda. The WHITEFISH RESORT corporation has no jurisdiction on the big mountain and the FOREST SERVICE corporation can not modify their laws any more than they can modify the LAWS OF THE STATE OF MONTANA. Fortunately, our gun laws did a lot of leg work for us on this challenge. The feds have no business neglecting our agreement, nor do they have any right to come up with policy that directly conflicts with our MONTANA STATE CONSTITUTION.


    p.s. please remind your local cop, politician or forest circus rep that they are your servant. not the other way around.

    montana state constitution (revised)

    Article 2 Section 3. Inalienable rights. All persons are born free and have certain inalienable rights. They include the right to a clean and healthful environment and the rights of pursuing life’s basic necessities, enjoying and defending their lives and liberties, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and seeking their safety, health and happiness in all lawful ways. In enjoying these rights, all persons recognize corresponding responsibilities.

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