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