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Skiing

Big Mountain Opens All Uphill Routes

Following weeks of limited uphill travel due to low snowpack, Whitefish Mountain Resort on Tuesday will begin allowing skiers to ascend the Benny Up Route

By Micah Drew
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

After weeks of restricting uphill ski travel on Big Mountain due to insufficient snowpack and limited terrain, Whitefish Mountain Resort officials on Monday announced they were opening both sanctioned uphill routes at full capacity starting Tuesday morning after a winter storm replenished the ski area over the weekend.

A resort spokesperson announced Monday that the Benny Up Route, which offers a direct ascent up the mountain’s main face, would open to skiers beginning Tuesday morning. The route has been closed since Dec. 7. During that time, resort officials have restricted uphill mountain travel to the East Route, although the diminished snowpack and increased crowds also forced that route’s closure from Christmas through New Year’s Day.

The worm turned on Jan. 7, however, when Whitefish awoke to a foot of new powder.

“Thanks to well over a foot of recent snowfall, we are now able open the Benny Up Route for uphill traffic. The route will open tomorrow, Tuesday, Jan. 9, and all the usual restrictions described in our uphill policy will be in effect,” Chad Sokol, Whitefish Mountain Resort’s public relations manager, wrote in an email.

In partnership with the Flathead National Forest, the ski area has a formal 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.

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. Routes are marked by 12-inch red diamonds with an arrow and the word “UPHILL” printed on them.

A map depicting Whitefish Mountain Resort’s uphill policy. Courtesy image

“We’re happy to open the Benny Up Route to our uphill community. We know this is an important activity for many and we want to see everyone enjoy themselves up here,” Whitefish Mountain Resort President Nick Polumbus said in a press release. “Conditions in December made it challenging to open terrain mountain-wide, but we’re hopeful the weather has finally turned in our favor. We appreciate everyone’s patience and cooperation over this past month.”

The resort, and the Flathead National Forest, remind skiers and boarders to abide  by the mountain’s uphill rules, which follow U.S. Forest Service policy in requiring uphill enthusiasts to maintain a 100-foot distance from grooming machines and a 50-foot distance from snowmaking equipment within the resort’s permit boundary.

The 2023/24 season is the fourth consecutive year the resort has required skiers to purchase an uphill access pass once the season was underway. As popularity in the modality has risen in recent years, the fees were implemented to offer another chance for the resort to educate skiers before they hit the hill. Season pass holders are automatically eligible for the uphill access pass, but must sign a waiver.

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

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