Whitefish Mountain Resort, U.S. Forest Service Pause Uphill Skiing Due to Unfavorable Conditions, Holiday Visitation

A scant winter snowpack and below-average temperatures have combined to limit the available terrain on Big Mountain, which opened for its 76th season Dec. 7

By Tristan Scott
An uphill skier works his way to the summit of Big Mountain on a bluebird day at Whitefish Mountain Resort on Jan. 29, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Due to unfavorable snow conditions and increased pressures from holiday visitation, Whitefish Mountain Resort and the Flathead National Forest are halting all uphill skiing traffic within the resort’s boundaries until further notice, according to a late Saturday press release from a resort spokesperson. The moratorium on uphill travel is effective Christmas Day, Monday, Dec. 25.

“Until further notice, no uphill hiking or skiing will be allowed in an effort to prevent collisions and other accidents that may occur due to unseasonably thin snow coverage, limited open terrain and crowds expected around the New Year’s Eve weekend,” the release states. “This pause will be in effect at all hours — before, during and after the resort’s daily chairlift operations.”

A skier removes skins from their skis in preparation for their descent of Big Mountain on Dec. 3, 2022. Hunter DÕAntuono | Flathead Beacon

In partnership with the Flathead National Forest, the ski area has formalized an uphill policy as part of its special use permit, which many skiers take advantage of throughout the winter, as well as to access early- and post-season skiing opportunities. Uphill skiers apply climbing skins, or adhesive strips of synthetic fibers, to the bottoms of their skis to ascend and descend designated routes, both for exercise and to access backcountry terrain. The activity is also popular for snow-shoers and hikers, although to a lesser degree.

“We know this is unwelcome news to the many members of the Whitefish community who enjoy trekking up the mountain, and we don’t take this lightly at all,” Whitefish Mountain Resort President Nick Polumbus stated in the release. “We would not take this step unless conditions on the slopes demanded it. We’re urging everyone to heed this temporary restriction and give the weather a chance to replenish our snowpack.”

Whitefish Mountain Resort is home to two designated uphill routes: the Benny Up Route, which follows the western edge of Toni Matt from the lift plaza to the summit, and the East Route, which begins at the Spruce lot, crosses the bridge toward the Ski and Ride School, then follows lower Inspiration, Expressway, Moe-Mentum and upper Russ’s Street to the summit.

Both routes are typically open during the resort’s winter operating season, with some restrictions depending on the time of day.

This season, however, the Benny Up Route has been closed since Dec. 7 due to warmer-than-average temperatures and lower-than-average snowfall. Uphill traffic has been restricted to the East Route, which has several conflicts with the limited terrain available for downhill traffic on the front side of the mountain, with most skiers funneled down the same route.

“The new pause means uphill traffic will not be permitted on any resort terrain, including the Benny Up Route and the East Route, starting Monday,” according to the release.

“As things stand, it’s just not safe to have uphill skiers mixing with downhill skiers on our very limited terrain,” resort spokesperson Chad Sokol said. “Our team will continue evaluating conditions on a daily basis until we are able to permit uphill traffic again. We appreciate everyone’s patience and cooperation as we eagerly wait for more snow and more skiable terrain.”

Signage will be posted at the resort informing guests of the pause on uphill traffic. The resort’s permanent uphill policy and the temporary restriction were crafted in coordination with the Forest Service.

“We recognize the terrain conditions temporarily warrant restricting uphill traffic at this time and understand the public will want to resume this activity as soon as possible,” Tally Lake District Ranger Bill Mulholland said.

The uphill policy can be found at skiwhitefish.com/uphill. Daily updates on terrain and weather conditions can be found at skiwhitefish.com/snowreport.