Ski Whitefish // (c) David Marx
Whitefish Mountain Resort, in Whitefish, Mont., and the U.S. Forest Service announced a new policy regarding uphill traffic at the Montana ski resort, in an attempt to decrease unsafe behavior associated with the increasingly popular activity.
Hiking uphill in the snow for sport used to be reserved for only the most serious winter outdoor recreation enthusiasts. However, in recent years, there has been a surge of popularity due to better equipment and coverage of the activity in mainstream media. The exponential increase in uphill traffic is the primary reason why this issue has come to a point of action now.
This season, resort staff reported several near-miss incidents with winch cats, grooming machines that use a winch and steel cable to allow the grooming of steep terrain. The cables are under high tension and often bind and release, jump 30 feet or more in an instant. After-hours hikers sometimes ski down close behind or in front of grooming machines after their ascents, in search of freshly groomed snow. 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 Chester Powell, director of operations and risk management for the resort. “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 dangerous practices that have been identified include traveling uphill on runs with blind corners; traveling uphill in the middle of runs instead of keeping to the edge; entering closed terrains undergoing avalanche control work; and disregarding posted warnings to stay away from high-pressure water lines and high-voltage electrical cables.
The new policy developed by resort management and the U.S. Forest Service will restrict uphill traffic within the resort’s Special Use Permit boundary to a single, clearly marked route on the mountain, following the Toni Matt run, which hugs the uphill-left edge of the trail. The policy will also limit the hours when uphill traffic is allowed: during ski season from 6:30 a.m. until the resort closes and Ski Patrol conducts their sweep of the mountain. After ski season ends, the same route will be used 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the first 14 days, with no active restrictions outside those hours and dates. Uphill traffic will not be allowed pre-season, since the resort is likely to be conducting extensive slope maintenance and snow-making operations.
The full text of the policy, along with an Uphill Traffic Responsibility Code by the resort’s Ski Patrol, can be found online. The policy was scheduled to go into effect on March 1.
Whitefish Mountain Resort