Whitefish Mountain Resort and the U.S. Forest Service instituted a new policy March 1 restricting uphill traffic at the ski resort due to unsafe behavior with hikers, snowshoers, and skiers. The policy, which drew support and fire from locals, has now garnered an official comment period through April 4.
Resort officials point to an exponential increase in uphill traffic over the last few years. "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." Resort managers estimate that as many as 90 percent of uphill travelers are current winter season passholders.
The resort and the Forest Service point to safety. Resort personnel have reported several near-miss incidents with skiers crossing beneath the cables of winch cats and following close behind or in front of grooming machines. "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 traveling uphill on runs with blind break-overs or blind corners, traveling 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 new policy restricts uphill traffic within the resort's boundary to one marked route up Toni Matt run and limits the hours when the activity is allowed from 6:30 a.m. until the resort closes for the day.
The resort and the U.S. Forest Service received a high volume of feedback on the new policy-mostly advocating for safe uphill traffic in the early evening hours and the opportunity for public comment.
In response, the resort and the Forest Service have opened an official comment period through April 4. "We're not completely satisfied with this policy, and neither are our users," said Donnie Clapp, Whitefish Mountain Resort Public Relations Manager. "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." The resort also plans to monitor how well the current policy is followed by uphill users.