Whitefish Mountain Resort recently announced a revised policy for winter uphill traffic, loosening previous restrictions and providing increased opportunities for participation in after-hours skiing near the northwestern Montana ski area.
Resort safety personnel proposed the original policy to address increasing levels of uphill traffic leading up to and during the 2009-2010 season, including increasingly common instances of uphill participants engaging in dangerous behavior.
“There are five main things we worry about when it comes to uphill traffic,” said Chester Powell, operations manager for the resort. “People getting too close to heavy grooming equipment in the evenings, potential collisions between uphill and downhill traffic during the day, people getting way too close to high-voltage electrical and high-pressure water lines during early season snow making, people putting themselves in areas where avalanche control work is happening, and people leaving ruts in freshly groomed snow in the evenings that can sometimes set up and be dangerous for skiers the next morning.”
Powell said that several incidents involving skiers getting dangerously close to grooming equipment at the beginning of the 2009-2010 ski season made it clear to resort management that something needed to be done.
The policy announced in February restricted uphill traffic to one route, up the side of the Toni Matt ski run, and did not allow any uphill traffic after the lifts closed for the day.
Immediate critcism from locals prompted officials to revisit the ban almost immediately, and provided the public a forum for comments from March 1 through April 4.
“The restrictions on evening skiing were by far the most popular point of contention with the policy,” said Powell. “And that makes sense; evenings are the most accessible and enjoyable time for people to participate. Unfortunately, though, evening run-ins and close calls involving skiers and grooming machines, including high-tension winch cable systems, had been steadily increasing for the past few seasons and were by far the most alarming aspect of the whole situation.”
The new Winter Uphill Traffic Policy for Whitefish Mountain Resort includes four major changes from the previous year.
An additional East Route will be added, which will ascend from the cul-de-sac at the end of Glades Drive, up Lower Inspiration, Expressway, and then Moe-Mentum to the Summit of Big Mountain. Resort staff hope that this route will be technically easier to ascend than the Toni Matt route, as well as provide an option that may be preferable during certain weather and snow conditions. Additionally, evening access will be allowed on this new East Route until 7:00 p.m. each day, giving people the opportunity to complete a quick lap after work in most cases.
In order to minimize interactions between skiers and grooming equipment, the resort has also modified the hours for several of the routes.
-9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., in-season: Toni Matt Route or East Route.
-4:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m., in-season: East Route only.
-6 a.m. – 9 a.m., in-season: Toni Matt Route only.
-First 14 days after closing day: East Route only from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., no restrictions before 8 a.m. and after 4 p.m.
In addition to the resort’s uphill traffic policy, the Forest Service has issued a new special order that was vital in bringing about the policy changes:
“It is prohibited for any skier, hiker, or person otherwise, to approach within 100 yards of grooming machines, whether stationary or moving; or snowmaking equipment, to include but not limited to fan guns, high-pressure water lines, and high-voltage electrical cables, within the Whitefish Mountain Resort permit boundary.”
The resort and the Forest Service hope that the special order will help deter dangerous activity during the entire winter season.
“We have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for recreational activities on the mountain,” said Tally Lake District Ranger Lisa Timchak. “Some unsafe situations were identified this past winter and we believe our new special order and the resort’s revised policy will help address these situations.”
“We’ve been working closely with the Forest Service to come up with the least restrictive policy possible, and this special order makes it realistic for us to allow this activity pre-season, when our snow making equipment can be in use,” said Powell. “The location of the snow making guns, the high-voltage electrical lines, and the high-pressure water lines can change daily, so it would be impossible for us to designate a single safe route during that time.”
The new policy will be in effect as soon as the snow starts falling.
“Our goal is to get it right, mitigate dangerous behavior, and allow as much recreation within our permit boundary as possible,” said Powell. “That could mean more restrictions, less restrictions, different routes, or any number of things. It all depends on how well it goes this winter.”