Skijoring Damages Top $28,000, Close Whitefish Airstrip

Popular event looks for new home as Glacier Park International considers transfer of authority

By Tristan Scott

Damages from the popular skijoring races last winter have closed the Whitefish Airport for the season, potentially forcing the popular winter event to relocate to a new venue.

Cindi Martin, executive director of Glacier Park International Airport, said the airstrip is normally open seasonally from the beginning of June until the end of October, but will not open this year because “the field is not in a condition to sustain airport operations.”

Damages from the World Invitational Whitefish Ski Joring races, which were held Jan. 30-31 at the airport and are a traditional Whitefish Winter Carnival event, totaled $28,435, Martin said, and included deep ruts and 6- to 8-inch postholes in the ground from the horses’ hooves.

In May, the Glacier International Airport Authority (GIAA) Board of Directors voted to not allow the event at its airstrip after discovering that, when ownership of the airport passed from the state to the county in 1964, it included a clause to allow use of the property strictly for airport purposes. Authority of the airstrip was transferred to GIAA in 1985.

But the board was scheduled to vote on the transfer of authority to the state Department of Transportation’s aviation division at its July 12 meeting, and organizers of the skijoring event are hopeful they can work out an agreement for the future.

Martin said if the state does take over management of authority of the airstrip, public use of the airport would not be affected.

At this year’s skijoring event, a competition in which skiers are pulled by a horse-and-rider team, Martin said the damages occurred while setting up for the event and grooming the course, as well as during and after the races, both from spectator traffic and horses.

While damage has occurred in the past, Martin said a period of thawing in late January created muddy conditions, making the grounds more susceptible to damage.

The total area damaged was 2.09 acres spread out over the western third of the airport, which totals 9.4 acres.