Unruly skiers prompt strong warning from resort
By MATT BALDWIN Whitefish Pilot | Posted Mar 23, 2012
A series of close calls this week involving hikers at Whitefish Mountain Resort who were dangerously close to grooming equipment and skiers entering closed avalanche terrain has prompted resort officials to send a strong warning to the ski community.
“There have been a few instances of some pretty poor behavior on the mountain recently and especially yesterday,” resort marketing director Nick Polumbus said. “It’s behavior we cannot accept and we will not.
“If you do not respect inbounds closures, the very best that can happen is that you will lose your pass and the very worst that can happen is significantly worse than losing your pass.”
In separate recent incidents, a skier and snowboarder hiked up after the lifts were closed and descended a route where a groomer was using a winch. The two violated both the resort’s uphill policy, which requires skiers to descend the route they hike up, and a special order from the Forest Service that requires skiers to stay at least 100 yards away from grooming equipment.
“With a winch cat, there is a cable out there that could kill a person,” resort spokeswoman Riley Polumbus said. “When it’s dark, skiers don’t know where these cables are and our groomers don’t expect to see a skier or hiker out there.”
On Thursday morning, after 10 inches of new snow fell overnight, Polumbus said a couple of skiers hiked up the mountain and entered the Haskill Slide area before avalanche patrol work had taken place. Haskill Slide is a steep, double black diamond slope that is prone to slides. Patrol was getting ready to work in the area when they saw fresh ski tracks.
Polumbus said the sheer number of avalanches this season has been well-publicized and that people should know better than to ski in closed avalanche-prone areas.
“I’m confident that some of these people do know better,” Polumbus said. “I don’t understand the mentality at all.
“If you’re going to ski uphill, you need to abide by our policy. If that doesn’t happen, we could take away that privilege.”
Most ski areas in Montana strictly prohibit uphill travel.
“We are proud we allow uphill skiers,” Polumbus said. “But we need people to follow the policy. A few people can ruin it for everybody.”
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 4:30 p.m. An alternate east route was later added to allow hiking between 4:30 and 7 p.m.
Also on Thursday after Chair 1 opened, nearly 80 skiers entered Hellroaring Basin before it was open. Patrollers were actively using avalanche explosives while skiers were in the area.
“The people yesterday were very close to those explosives,” Polumbus said. “It was a close call.”
All of the skiers who entered the closed terrain were given warnings and some had their pass pulled for their second offense.
“People need to understand that there is a lot of avalanche-prone terrain accessible from Chair 1,” Polumbus said. “If we delay the openings, it’s because we are still working on those areas. You could trigger an avalanche that catches someone else, or you could get in the way of explosives.”
In a tight-knit ski community like Whitefish, Polumbus said, more respect should be shown for ski patrol.
“To not show that respect is irritating,” she said. “The fact that people came so close to being in a dangerous situation is irritating.”
The bottom line, she said, comes down to respect.
“Respect the dangers of nature,” she said. “There are closures for a reason, respect them. We have 3,000 acres up here — go ski something that is open.”
It’s the skier’s responsibility to know the rules and to follow them, she said.
Big Mtn could change uphill travel policy
Whitefish Mountain Resort is considering a change to its uphill travel policy after two skiers were caught in a closed area where Big Mountain Ski Patrol personnel were using avalanche explosives.
According to the resort, ski patrollers encountered a man and woman on Feb. 19 who had skinned to the summit of Big Mountain. A patroller told the skiers that avalanche control work was in progress in Hellroaring Basin and in the East Rim area and asked the two 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 stop the explosion.
The names of the two skiers are being withheld pending an investigation by Whitefish Mountain Resort and the Flathead National Forest.
It's not all about you. It could affect the rights of others. Even if you don't end up with a winch cable round your neck or a charge lobbed from above.
Please pay attention to all Ski Patrol signage mountain wide. When a run is roped off and reads "CLOSED" it means it's closed. Runs are open and closed based on patrol's discretion and it's for everyone's safety.