Whitefish Mountain Resort Announces Ammended Uphill Traffic Rules

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | August 10, 2010      

Last winter we blogged about the onerous rules for uphill travel that Whitefish Mountain Resort had put in place. The overly restrictive policy caused an uproar, and lots of comments on our post, see it here. The bogus policy restricted uphill traffic to one route, and most importantly, didn’t allow uphilling after the lifts closed.

Apparently the Forest Service and resort listened to those of you you who wrote letters or commented here, and the resort has announced a new set of rules that allows at least some uphilling during evening hours. The policy is still too restrictive in my view, but represents progress in recognizing a legitimate activity that should be accommodated.

The new policy adds a second uphilling route and will swap closure of the routes to keep skiers safe from grooming equipment. More, it will provide one route or the other from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., which will allow some before and after work uphilling but is still far short of simply leaving at least one route open all night, as we feel it should be.

According to reports, 126 comments were received by the resort and USFS, and nearly all comments asked for evening access.

It’s interesting to note that the resort claims one reason they were willing to work on the rule changes was that most people obeyed the uphilling rules last season. Sort of the opposite of what I call the “kindergarten effect,” meaning “if a few people break the rules, we punish everyone!” Sorry to hear the resort is treating uphillers like a kindergarten class, but at least the outcome is okay. This time.

One has to wonder if 200 people got together in a mass civil disobedience uphill event and marched up the resort at night, what would the outcome be? More revenue for the USFS in the form of 200 tickets? Extended uphilling hours?

More, something funny and ironic occurs to me. When snowboarders and eventually skiers wanted structures for tricks, resorts bent over backward to build terrain parks, otherwise known as broken bone parks. The resorts didn’t seem too concerned about safety so long as the tickets were rolling in. Now some uphillers come along and we hear this endless yammering about how these dangerous groomers, air lines, etc. are just up there waiting to maim us. One has to wonder, if uphillers bought tickets, would the resort be quite so worried? I’m just saying…

Whatever the case, look for issues such as this to keep cropping up all over the country as people discover the joy of uphilling.

Local newspaper details here.


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43 Responses to “Whitefish Mountain Resort Announces Ammended Uphill Traffic Rules”

  1. Tom August 10th, 2010 10:43 am

    Whitefish uphillers are lucky. Utah resorts don’t allow any uphill travel. Why? I have no idea.

  2. David Boye August 10th, 2010 11:39 am

    I hear your points Lou, but for the current moment, I want to offer up some praise to the ski area for moving in the direction of allowing more access (especially the early season access, which is unrestricted now, and the generally unrestricted post-season access (There is plenty of skiing up there before and after the mountain is open for the season)).

    I was previously concerned that we had lost this activity for good at Whitefish Mtn, so at least now we can work with the Mountain to move forward.

    Thanks for providing a place to discuss these things, and Thank you Whitefish Mountain Resort for offering up some compromises.

  3. Lou August 10th, 2010 11:49 am

    David, thanks for the tempered view, I get pretty hot under the fleece about this issue, and actually part of my feeling is based on seeing the ski industry messing up so bad over the last three decades. For their own good, I want to see the industry embrace all compatible uses of their permit areas. Niggling on and on about uphillers being in danger from grooming operations just sounds so bogus, when the people skiing downhill during the day are tearing up their knees right and left, needing helmets, etc, I mean, is there one instance on Whitefish where an uphiller actually got hurt from an encounter with a grooming operation? Or more than one instance?

    Reality is that ski resorts manage to make money of a risky activity. They embrace things like broken bone parks and the steeps, then they whine about some uphillers being in danger? It just doesn’t compute.

  4. David Boye August 10th, 2010 11:54 am

    I hear you Lou (and agree with your point on how scared these ski area institutions are), but living hear in Whitefish and knowing how some employees at the mountain “went to bat” for this cause, I want to give them their kuddos for now.

    The big liability issues, etc. that cause these problems in the first place will linger on … ….

    And to whomever those guys are who skied in front of snow-cats last year…. IF I ever see anyone doing that, I will personally arrange for them to be tied to a barstool at the Northern Bar and heckled by the uphillers for a whole evening…

  5. Dave downing August 10th, 2010 12:28 pm

    On another note, many resorts have begun to remove terrain park jumps and half pipes for liability/injury reasons in the past season or 2…

  6. Donnie Clapp August 10th, 2010 12:53 pm

    Hey Lou, thanks for covering this again. I just wanted to chime in on a couple of points from the resort’s point of view.

    First, on the Kindergarten effect. We don’t like it any more than you. If we could choose to just ignore people who are careless, we would. But we can’t because inevitably those people sue if and when they get injured. During operating hours, we chase down and chastise people going too fast, monitor ability levels in the terrain park, rope off hazards, and so on. At night, we’re not around to do any of that, but we’re here to create additional dangers in the form of machinery and such, and it’s dark. That’s sort of the crux of the issue. Our employees and machinery are dangerous, but we don’t have any of the employees here at night who mitigate that danger during the day. Plus it’s dark.

    The other way that your Kindergarten analogy doesn’t really hold up is that our intention in the beginning was not to teach the kids a lesson, as it were. Our intention was simply to limit our liability. Any lessons learned by any idiots that were fond of hassling grooming operators and skiing under winch cables were just a happy side effect. And I do think that happened, to some extent.

    I know it gets old hearing corporations talk about liability, but it’s a fact of doing business. Yes, liability has driven decisions on this issue for us. But liability drives decisions about almost every operational thing we do here, every day. Yes, terrain parks can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, but look how much signage, closure rope, and staff are there to mitigate that risk and make sure participants are not biting off more than they can chew.

    Pick a date on the calendar during the past ten years, and I guarantee you at that point we were involved in multiple lawsuits alleging our negligence was at least partially the cause of an injury. Even when they’re baseless (and they often are), they still cost many thousands of dollars. When there is merit to them, they can cost much, much more. These things put a serious dent in the bottom line of a small company, which we are.

    The second point you made was about uphillers and tickets. Basically, you’re correct in your assertion that if every uphiller bought some sort of ticket, our potential liability would be limited under [in our case Montana] Law and the Skier Responsibility Code, with a couple of caveats. First, we would probably need to make sure any grooming and especially winch cat operations were roped off and/or signed and/or well-lit. Second, we would probably need patrollers on duty to respond to emergencies.

    The first problem with pursuing that line of thinking is, we don’t really want to charge people to hike uphill. Honestly, that sounds sort of greedy and lame. The second is that we don’t think enough people would be willing to pay enough to cover the costs of staffing it. Especially those who already buy winter season passes.

    Finally, just to answer your question about any past injuries resulting from groomer/skier collisions. No, not here, but elsewhere, yes. There are at least two deaths that I have read about in the past. We have had collisions between skiers and snowmobiles in the past, though, during the day. If you talk to anyone in the ski resort insurance business, they’ll tell you that any collision between a machine (snowmobilie, groomer) and a skier is at least partially the machine’s fault, even if it wasn’t really. History has proved that 100% true in cases that have made it to court, as far as I know.

    Anyway, all that being said, we at the resort couldn’t be more excited that we were able to make such big changes for this winter. I, for one, am stoked to be able to hike up after work again.

    And I think that continuing to have this conversation is a good thing.

    Donnie Clapp
    PR Manager
    Whitefish Mountain Resort

  7. Donnie Clapp August 10th, 2010 12:57 pm

    Oh, and Dave B., thanks for your kudos. They are well-received and appreciated, by everyone here.

    Dave D., you meant to say, “have begun…”


  8. Smokey August 10th, 2010 1:15 pm

    Donnie Clapp sounds like a ** when he corrects people’s spelling…

  9. Lou August 10th, 2010 1:20 pm

    Smokey, please no personal attacks here. Donnie probably meant to be friendly, agree that grammar and spelling corrections don’t always come off that nice, but I don’t think it’s worth insulting the person doing it. I’ll take care of it if it gets out of hand. Lou

  10. Lou August 10th, 2010 1:22 pm

    Donnie, thanks so much for bringing your side of the issue to the public eye. Truly appreciated. Lou

  11. Pete Anzalone August 10th, 2010 1:22 pm

    Mr Clapp makes good points but, in the aggregate, they’re rather unsatisfactory.

    It seems logical that the after-hours-uphillers assume the risk per the Skier Responsibility Code. Why shouldn’t they? Skiing is skiing whether it’s up or down day or night.

    Two suggestions – one easy, one hard – head lamps and tort reform.

  12. Smokey August 10th, 2010 1:45 pm

    My bad…no need in stateing the obvious. My apologizes…

  13. Donnie Clapp August 10th, 2010 1:51 pm

    @Smokey, @Lou – sorry, that spelling correction did come off a little douchey. Dave is a friend of mine, so I was just ribbing him in public a little. Wouldn’t do it to someone I don’t know.


  14. Donnie Clapp August 10th, 2010 1:59 pm

    @Pete — That would be very logical. But if logic was the rule, there wouldn’t be a warning label on my snow blower reminding me not to use it on the roof of my house.

  15. Lou August 10th, 2010 2:05 pm

    Smokey, no problem. In fact, I have a moment so I’ll get in there and correct it! Lou

  16. Pete Anzalone August 10th, 2010 4:21 pm

    But Donnie, what if you had a flat roof?
    Then using the snow blower on it would be quite logical.

  17. Marti August 10th, 2010 5:00 pm

    I’d love to ski uphill after hours, but am fully with Donnie on this one. If I owned a ski area, I wouldn’t even let people look at it for fear of getting sued. If some honor student breaks his neck on a winch line, you can kiss the entire ski area goodbye, regardless of how many warning signs or liability forms they signed.

    For that matter, why not just go somewhere out of bounds and not even worry about it?

  18. Donnie Clapp August 10th, 2010 5:12 pm

    @Pete – I don’t feel like a flat roof would be logical if you live somewhere that requires owning a snow plow…

    Also, just seeing that sticker makes me want to get that thing on my roof and just see how dangerous it really is, anyway…

    @Marti – In theory I agree that if you’re into hiking, you should just forget all the hassle of downhillers and groomers and winch cables and hike out of bounds. But it’s hard to pass up the slopeside parking, familiarity with terrain, and apres-ski beers at the Stube that hiking a resort offers you.


  19. Peter Baumgartner August 11th, 2010 5:51 am

    We have the same problem/discussion going on over here in Europe (I live in Germany, but tour mostly in Austria). I agree that touring out of bounds is the best way to avoid this whole problem (and the discussions) – but this is not always feasible. Sometimes the avalanche risk is simply too high – and those of us who don’t want to miss the training then use the sides of groomed slopes.

    Yes, touring out of bounds is much nicer, but if the risk of touring in a ski resort is lower than touring out of bounds, then I gladly take the lower risk.

    Anyway, I believe this issue will take some time to resolve, but eventually all sides will come together with a solution that is acceptable for all parties. Same thing has happened with the skiers vs snowboarders discussions.


  20. Omr August 11th, 2010 9:08 am

    I’m still scratchng my head on this argument. I just don’t see myself ever going to a resort to skin when there is a cornucopia of non-resort options. The reason I bc ski is to get away from that mentality. What am missing?

  21. Lou August 11th, 2010 9:25 am

    Omr, are you asking rhetorical questions? Surly you understand that skin climbing at a resort compared to backcountry skiing is sort of like road riding compared to mountain biking. They are two very different things that use the same gear. If you’re 100% a backcountry skier, I can understand why you wouldn’t be interested in resort skinning, but it’s a legitimate and fun activity that people can engage in to enjoy the outdoors and get fit, and involves little to no complexity or danger compared to backcountry skiing.

    The activity is even historically relevant, as the first ski resorts had no ski lifts and people either hiked or skinned up for their vert.

    I enjoy it as a fitness activity that I find quite fun in the right situations (not too many human bombs heading down from above), but do tend to head to the backcountry instead whenever possible! So I’m with you on that! After all, this is indeed WILDsnow.com!

  22. Marti August 11th, 2010 10:00 am

    Skinning at a resort is akin to jogging on a freeway. Yes,a freeway is smooth, easily accessible and convenient, but it was designed for cars and high speeds, not joggers.

  23. gillesleskieur August 11th, 2010 10:50 am

    the more i read about such rules ,the more i like living in switzerland.. 😉

  24. Ben August 11th, 2010 6:44 pm

    Heavy machinery is dangerous. Especially in the dark. Areas being groomed are no different than a construction site with operating equipment. And unfortunately most people without construction site experience DO need shepherding through these zones much like a kindergarten class.
    I don’t think the terrain park hazard comparison is fair for many reasons. Also, not just ski area lawyers and insurance reps. are concerned about these risks. No cat operator wants to be the first responder to a skier/ winch cable accident.
    I’m glad a compromise was reached. Making an uphill option is great. But I don’t think the safety concerns should be looked at lightly because they are very real.

  25. always lost August 11th, 2010 9:23 pm

    I would love to skin up ski areas after hours, and have illegally many times. I have also driven a winch cat and have seen the damage a snapped cable can do. How long until snow reduction operations accidentally bury someone out for a early morning skin? Ski Areas can be a very dangerous place when the lifts aren’t turning. If one route is opened, someone will poach. Forget the liability issues, Why do we even want to risk that happening? I think public, unguided after hours access is bad idea.

  26. dave downing August 12th, 2010 8:38 am

    Lou, i think BC skinning is to Resort skinning what Mountain biking is to a Spin Bike at the gym (on the deck perhaps?)


  27. Lou August 12th, 2010 8:40 am

    Dave, yeah, that’s a much better analogy than mountain vs road biking…

  28. Carl Pelletier August 12th, 2010 4:48 pm

    Hey Lou,

    I was just talking to Pete Swenson of Cosmic (Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup) at the OR show. He informed me that they were working on a few different area up-hill non-race events for next season. A chance to exercise, relax, educate, etc. He might be a good person to contact to see what the future holds in this arena.

  29. Omr August 13th, 2010 12:08 am

    Going with your biking analogy, we use to ride mtn. bikes at night on the runs of Alta and Snowbird. The groomers hated us, more 50 degree January days. Wiith the right tires we could climb just about any bd run as long as it hadn’t snowed in a week. Downhill was fearless while flying down a freshly groomed trail – it was Utah powder afteral, but now sporting tire tracks. It had no adverse ski effect, but some groomers would go back out and cover our tracks. – pride I guess.

  30. greg August 13th, 2010 6:10 am

    Hey all,

    I am a dedicated backcountry skier and I love everything about the backcountry. But in terms of getting fitter and faster so that I can ski and climb 3-5 peaks in a day touring on a groomer has always been the best way to up my speed.

    There is also nothing like getting up early and touring to the top of our mountain and shredding 5500ft of fresh groomer to the bottom, almost as good as powder skiiing.

    In terms of my goal this year it has always been convenient and safe to go out early or late to get some vertical. A way of spending quality time with my family and then bust out for 2 hours of quick and safe vertical.

    But given that I have spent 200+ days of skiing this year, summitted 52 different mountains, and spent countless hours in avalanche terrain. The closest I have come to really hurting myself was on a ski hill. A late night tour around 9.30pm and I toured up the run I was going to ski down, I talked to the groomers so that I knew where they were, and headed to the top. Skiing down fast and furious, the way I like to ski, I came whipping down the run and knew that I was getting close to where they were winching so I took a quick left on a cat track. And wham right in front of me was a winch cat cable, 2 and a half feet off the ground. Caught in my turn I could not jump out of it, so instead I lay down and slid under the cable. As I went under it I hit it with my thigh and chest, and damn was that thing taught.
    Skidding under it I got up and continued down. I thought I was ok till I re-assessed later.

    Super bruised thigh and a broken rib. For 6 weeks every time I bent down to buckle my boots I was in pain, reminding me off my misadventure.

    So I love up hill skinning, and think that it should be available for all, as a form of fitness and fun. But I think that there should be some co-ordinating with the ski hill. If I had not re-acted as quickly as I had there results would have been disastrous. After years of pushing limits in the backcountry to die on a resort would be a bit embarrassing.

    g hill

  31. Lou August 13th, 2010 7:17 am

    Hey Greg, well said! But you might want to dial back your raging ski style when you’re on the resort (grin). Lou

  32. Travis August 16th, 2010 9:38 am

    Avoid the “regulated” hills altogether and try hitting some backcountry skiing with Glacier Adventure Guides. Greg Fortin runs the show over there, taking skiiers up into Glacier National Park to areas not many other men know about (or have the skills to get to and back from).
    Greg is a backcountry survival expert and an avalanche instructor on the Flathead Nordic Ski Patrol, so you’ll be in good hands. Shoot me an email and I’ll get you some more information or in touch w/ Greg.

  33. Scott August 16th, 2010 2:06 pm


    Nice shameless plug. Other than trying to get free advertising, how is that last post relevant to the topic?

  34. Lou August 16th, 2010 2:27 pm

    Scott, that does indeed look like someone just trying to get a link here on the place where all you regular contributors have created a great community. But Travis seems sincere just perhaps a bit misguided on comment etiquette.

    Travis, try participating for a while before making plugs, and wrap the plug in more actual discussion.

    Thanks, Lou

  35. Scott August 16th, 2010 3:20 pm


    I just found Tyler’s post hillariously out of place. His opening line encouraging you to “Avoid the “regulated” hills altogether and try hitting some backcountry skiing…” was pretty funny. I’m surprised the thought hasn’t occured to you or one of your readers before.

  36. Lou August 16th, 2010 4:54 pm

    He he, indeed!

    I’m just super spam sensitive these days as we are constantly attacked. Actually taking away from my writing time, but that’s the gig if you’re a blogger.

  37. Lou August 16th, 2010 4:55 pm

    Everyone, remember to use the new challenge question/answer.

    I have a feeling a few people might have gotten their comments messed up by that today.

  38. ScottP August 17th, 2010 12:40 pm

    A word of warning, Lou, your new anti-spam quiz may prevent Sylvain Saudan (and others) from being able to post comments here.


  39. Lou August 17th, 2010 12:48 pm

    he he Scott, try a few other answers relating to your point and see what happens (grin).

  40. ScottP August 17th, 2010 3:06 pm

    Challenge accepted

  41. Matt Brake August 30th, 2010 1:23 am
  42. John December 16th, 2010 6:10 pm

    Hey, anybody know Keystones uphill policy?

  43. Chad February 9th, 2011 10:25 am


    Jackson Hole Mountain Resort just arrested someone this past weekend for skinning up a cat track while the mountain was open. Not sure what to think of this.

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