Strapping skins on skis and climbing Big Mountain for a hard-earned schuss is an increasingly popular activity during winter, but now that the ski area is opening, officials are urging skinners to follow proper guidelines at Whitefish Mountain Resort.
“We have very serious issues with the public not complying with the policy as it exists today,” said Hans Castren with the U.S Forest Service, who works with the resort on its special use permit. “That puts the public at risk, other skiers who are using the facilities at risk and the employees at risk.”
Castren said this could lead to enhanced enforcement in the near future if the problem persists.
“Ultimately it’s for their benefit so this activity can continue safely,” he said.
During ski season, uphill traffic is limited to two routes on Big Mountain.
The Toni Matt Route follows the left edge of Toni Matt from the lift plaza to the summit and is marked by red diamonds and an arrow. It is open to uphill traffic from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. The East Route begins at the Base Lodge, crosses the bridge toward the ski and ride school and clinic and ascends lower Inspiration, Expressway, Moe-Mentum and Fill Hill to the summit. It is clearly marked and open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
It is prohibited for any anyone to approach within 100 feet of grooming machines, whether stationary or moving; or snowmaking equipment within the resort’s permit boundary.
There are no route restrictions before and after ski season.
The Forest Service closed public comment this week for a proposed revision to its national policy involving ski areas on public land.
The proposed revision, which was published online in October and closed to public comment Dec. 2, included a clarification that would clearly allow ski areas to charge fees for uphill traffic.
The Forest Service directive says, “ski area permit holders may be allowed to charge fees for use of improvements and services in which they have made capital investments, such as ski trails or other facilities they constructed, groom, or otherwise maintain.”
Both Whitefish Mountain Resort and Blacktail Mountain are among the 122 ski areas across the U.S. operating on National Forest System lands under special use permits. The two local ski areas are also among a small group in the region that allow people to ascend ski runs and ski down for free.
Despite the potential reinforced policy by the Forest Service, officials from both ski areas said they have no plans of charging people for skinning.
“We have no intention of charging for uphill traffic,” Whitefish Mountain Resort spokesperson Riley Polumbus said.
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