Whitefish Mountain Resort is considering a change to its uphill travel policy after two skiers were caught in a closed area where ski patrol was using avalanche explosives.
According to the resort, ski patrol encountered a man and woman Feb. 19 who skinned to the summit of Big Mountain. A patroller told the skiers avalanche control work was in progress in Hellroaring Basin and in the East Rim area and asked the duo to descend the designated route on Toni Matt. A second patroller also asked the skiers to ski down Toni Matt.
The same two skiers were later seen in Hellroaring Basin descending a closed slope where an explosive charge was about to be deployed. Patrollers were able to extinguish the explosive in time to abort.
The names of the two skiers are being withheld pending an investigation by Whitefish Mountain Resort and the Flathead National Forest.
The resort and Flathead National Forest are currently discussing possible changes to the uphill policy in the wake of other similar incidents.
In 2012, the resort issued a strong warning after a couple of skiers hiked up the mountain and entered the Haskill Slide area before avalanche patrol work had taken place. Also that year, a skier and snowboarder hiked up after the lifts were closed and descended a route where a groomer was using a winch.
The resort implemented an uphill policy in the spring of 2010. The popularity of skiers using skins to climb the mountain before the lifts open then ski back down had exploded in the years leading up to the new rule. The policy was established to allow uphill traffic while creating a buffer between skiers, groomers and patrollers.
The resort’s uphill policy allows hikers to climb and descend the Toni Matt slope between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. An alternate east route was later added to allow hiking between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.