Flathead Forest Considers Requests for Winter Recreation Permits

Applications for special-use permits includes proposals for guided snow-bike tours, shuttles, outfitter services, education, races, retreats and events

By Tristan Scott
The Flathead Avalanche Center's Motorized Level 1 participants discuss terrain management on Red Meadow Road on Dec. 19, 2021. Courtesy image

The Flathead National Forest is processing a flurry of requests for outfitting and shuttle services this winter, with proposals ranging from guided snow-bike, snowmobiling, skiing and snow-shoe tours to therapeutic “forest bathing.”

Officials with the Flathead National Forest (FNF) are soliciting public input on requests for nine temporary special-use permits authorizing outfitting and guiding activities from approximately Dec. 1, 2023, through May 15, 2024. According to a news release announcing the proposals, each request meets the criteria to receive a special-use permit under a categorical exclusion, which is the least-intensive form of environmental review.

Eight of the proposed special uses have been approved for one-year permits in the past; however, each proposal requires approval on an annual basis. One new proposal by Glacier Nordic Club is also under review.

 “Scoping comments and resource analyses will determine if there are extraordinary circumstances present that would warrant the need for an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement or whether actions could fall under the [categorical exclusion] listed above,” according to a scoping letter from Deputy Flathead National Forest Supervisor Tamara MacKenzie

“All proposed motorized activities would only occur in areas open to motorized use,” MacKenzie added in the letter.

The following list of organizations and businesses are proposing outfitting and guiding for the winter 2023-2024 season: The Mountain Guides Montana, Glacier Adventure Guides, 2 Whitefish Vertical Adventures, Action Rentals, Northwest Montana Adventures, Whitefish Shuttle, Rooted Heart, Snowbike Nation and Glacier Nordic Club.

The following uses would occur on the Hungry Horse-Glacier View Ranger District.  

The Mountain Guides Montana is requesting 200 service days for the purpose of offering avalanche education and winter travel skills courses on terrain adjacent to the Whitefish Mountain Resort on the Tally Lake and Glacier View Ranger Districts. The proposed season is Dec. 15, 2023, through March 31, 2024.

“They anticipate offering a maximum of 10 American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) Avalanche Level 1 courses, one AIARE Avalanche Level 2 course, and 10 winter travel/backcountry skills courses with a class size of two to 12 participants,” according to the scoping letter.

Access to terrain would occur through Whitefish Mountain Resort. Training through a third party for guides only, for two trips up to 18 participants, would occur in the Canyon Creek area.

Glacier Adventure Guides are requesting 75 service days for guided day-use cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trips and for winter outdoor education classes, such as basic winter backcountry travel, avalanche education, and winter safety, with a maximum group size of eight clients. Activities would occur from Dec. 1, 2023, to March 31, 2024. Areas requested include snowshoeing on the Columbia Mountain and Demers Ridge trails; cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on Spoon Lake Road and Paola Creek Road (open motorized portion only). Various winter education classes (using cross-country skis and snowshoes) are approved in low-elevation, non-avalanche terrain areas near the Izaak Walton Inn.

Whitefish Vertical Adventure Guides are requesting 50 service days for approximately 20 trips with an estimated group size of one to four clients for guided backcountry ski touring and avalanche awareness trips with access to terrain from Whitefish Mountain Resort. The proposed season is Dec. 10, 2023, through March 31, 2024.

The following uses would occur on the Tally Lake Ranger District.

Northwest Montana Adventures (Winter Wonderland) is requesting 200 service days to provide guided day-use snowmobile tours on groomed routes from Dec. 1, 2023, through April 15, 2024. Maximum group size would be 12. Tours would begin in Olney and be restricted to groomed routes in the Taylor Creek and Werner Peak areas, the groomed loop to the east on Road 316 to the warming hut, and the groomed route on Road 115 to Red Meadow Lake campground from the west side of the Whitefish Range on the Glacier View Ranger District. This proposal would also include delivery of snowmobile rentals.

Whitefish Shuttle (Outfitters and Tours) is requesting to provide outfitting and guiding services for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing within the Round Meadow Winter Trails area off NFSR # 539, the Star Meadow Road, from Dec. 1, 2023, to March 31, 2024. They are requesting 50 service days with a group of up to eight clients and one guide.

Rooted Heart LLC is requesting for 50 service days to provide guided snowshoe walks with the purpose of forest therapy/bathing and interpretation at the Round Meadow Winter Trails Area. Authorized activities will occur Dec. 1, 2023, through March 31, 2024, with a maximum party size of 10 clients per trip.

Glacier Nordic Club is requesting 200 days for use on the Round Meadows Winter Trail system for Glacier Nordic Club participants from Dec. 15 to April 15, as conditions allow. Small groups of skiers would stay on groomed trails and would be with a coach or instructor for the duration of the 90-minute usage periods.

The following uses would occur forest-wide.

Action Rentals is requesting guided motorized snowmobile and motorized snowbike tours on the Tally Lake and Swan Lake Ranger Districts. A temporary warming hut would also be placed at the junction off Martin Creek Divide. Swan Lake-area routes in the Island Unit will be included, as per the Motorized Use Vehicle Map (MVUM). Use of Wild Bill Trailhead and snowmobile parking at Blacktail Mountain Ski Area is permitted as well as livery. Authorized activities will occur Dec. 1, 2023 through March 31, 2024. A total of 200 service days with a maximum party size of six clients per trip are being requested.

Snowbike Nation is requesting 200 service days for guided snowbike tours from Dec. 15, 2023 through May 14, 2024, with a regular party size of four bikes per trip and a maximum party size of six guests and two guides. Areas requested are open areas identified on the over-snow vehicle-use map (OSVUM) and are in the Wild Bill and Blacktail, Crane Mountain area on the Swan Lake Ranger District, open areas in the Tally Lake Ranger District, and the Skyland area on the Hungry Horse/Glacier View Ranger District. Dates requested are dates identified on the OSVUM as open to over snow vehicle access.

Members of the public should email Julie Gerrior at [email protected] for general inquiries or to provide comments. Please contact the district representative listed below for specific information on each proposal.

Hungry Horse/Glacier View: Sean Cranmer [email protected]; Swan Lake: Anthony Butterfield [email protected]; Tally Lake: Derrick Mercer [email protected].

Comments will be accepted through Nov. 28, 2023, and should be submitted to [email protected] with “2024 Winter Rec Special Use” in the subject line.

Maps of the project areas can be found on the Flathead National Forest website under the Managing the Land/Projects page. Input received in response to this solicitation, including names, addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers of those who comment, will be considered part of the public record, and will be available for public inspection.

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