Meeting discusses future of uphill skiing on Big Mountain

Signs mark the Toni Matt uphill rout as it approaches the summit at Whitefish Mountain Resort.

KALISPELL, Mont. - A group of nearly 100 skiers and community members met this morning with representatives of the Flathead National Forest and Whitefish Mountain Resort to discuss the future of uphill skiing at the mountain.

In February two skiers climbed the mountain in the early morning along a designated route, and then skied down in a closed area despite warnings from ski patrol.

The two skiers were later seen in an area where the ski patrol was preparing to detonate explosive charges triggering an avalanche. The charges were extinguished with no injuries but the close call is representative of the safety concerns resort officials have for skiers on the mountain before and after hours.

The current policy allows skiers to climb the mountain and ski down on designated routes between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. This is intended to keep skiers away from safety hazards like grooming equipment and avalanche control work.

Several recent violations of the policy have prompted resort officials and the Flathead National Forest, which controls two-thirds of the land area where Whitefish Mountain Resort operates, to consider changes.

Wade Muehlhof with the National Forest tells us that after hearing suggestions from the community this morning he believes the changes that need to be made are in educating skiers about the policy and enforcing it.

"We think we have a great policy in place, but we're not able to enforce it to the level that we'd like to. So we're looking at redoing the special order which spells out what we can enforce and what we can ticket people for. The other thing we're doing is another round of outreach and education," says Muehlhof.

Muehlhof says discussions are ongoing, but he expects the Forest Service special order will be rewritten for next season allowing for greater enforcement. Currently the Forest Service special order only allows for fines to skiers who come within 100 feet of grooming equipment.

The current uphill skiing policy and uphill skier's responsibility code can be viewed on the Whitefish Mountain Resort website.