Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Montana Snowbowl, Public access policy

Montana Snowbowl ski resort is a great place to go for morning or evening ski training, and serves as a quick access point for backcountry skiing in the Rattlesnake.  Public access is legal, but restrictions do apply, and Snowbowl has strongly discouraged users in the past.  Montana Snowbowl's public use access policy has been updated for the 2013-2014 season.  Here are a few bullet points, outlined in the policy.
  • It is legal to skin straight up Paradise outside of operating hours, but there are several restrictions outlined in the permit.
    • Access from National Forest land.  Don't go through the base area.  Review the map and/or follow the route outlined below.
    • The hours are restrictive for uphill traffic: 1 hour before lifts open until the sweep has been completed, roughly 8 am through 5 pm.
    • Runs with active grooming and snowmaking are closed.  It is hard to know where Snowbowl is grooming, but a good rule of thumb is to take a good hard look while driving up to the resort, and act accordingly.  The most common issue is when Snowbowl is grooming on Paradise and the North Dakota Downhill.  I think that the two best ways to deal with this are either to stay outside of Paradise (always legal), or to access the resort via the main parking lot/Second Thought easement if it looks like they are grooming on Paradise.     
    • Park outside of the gate, not in the main lot.
    • No pets.
  • It is always legal to ski back down ski runs in the resort, even while Snowbowl is operating, as long as you don't use the lifts, don't have dogs, avoid runs with active grooming and snowmaking, and exit straight off Paradise.
  • It is always legal to park at the lower lot and skin outside of the resort, even during operating hours. There is usually a skin track.  
It is important to note that the policy only applies to National Forest land.  It is still mandatory that users access the ski runs by parking in the lower lot and hiking/skinning straight up to Paradise.  This necessitates a 5-minute bushwack in both directions.  The bushwack is pretty easy, though.  I normally head straight uphill from the parking lot, just looker's right of the cut slope.  There is a game trail that takes you to the Beargrass highway trail, and from there it is easy to climb up and looker's left to the resort.  The most common infringement is to ski back down through private land in the resort at the end of the day.  There is also an easement across Private property using the Point 6 road and Second Thought.  Although  that access route is more applicable for accessing the Beargrass highway bike trail in the summer, it can be used as an alternate access route if they are grooming on Paradise, or an alternate ski route down.

Snowbowl Map.  Paradise is the farthest run to the right.
The lower lot is delineated with a "P".
Stay out Private land in the black box unless you are on the easement. 
I strongly encourage people skin at Snowbowl, and not to let Snowbowl discourage public use.  Skiers are still plowed in and confronted occasionally, so it is worth bringing a shovel or a friend to help push you out, and also a copy of the public use policy, or at least a good understanding of the conditions.  As far as I can tell from the policy, many of the actions that Snowbowl claims are illegal are in fact legal.  Parking in the lower lots are totally legal, even if they are snowplowing.  Although common sense and respect is certainly merited, there is also no language about disrupting disrupting runs by being on them discretely when Snowbowl employees are using them for snowmobile access.  One point of confusion that is not clearly outlined in the policy is avalanche control avoidance.  At this point, please use common sense, which I would interpret at a minimum as avoiding the upper bowls if it has been snowing.

If folks do get hassled, I would encourage you to give the Forest Service a call.  Contacts are shown in the policy, and both Carl and Al are aware of the problem, and are good to work with.

Also, this policy is up for review every year, and the best thing uphill minded skiers can do to preserve access is to get out there, but abide by the policy.  Please be tactful and polite, and keep it all legal, PLEASE.

Before and after the Operating Season
As long as skiers mind the pet/groomer/snowmaking restrictions, it is legal to skin straight up Paradise using the National Forest Access.  After the resort closes, it is technically still mandatory to access from National Forest, but in the past, Snowbowl doesn't seem to mind skiers skiing up through the base area.  My recommendation post-season skiing  is to park outside of the gate and ski up the gut, but understand that Snowbowl has the right to kick you off Private land at the base.

Lolo National Forest Website:

Select text from the policy

Montana Snowbowl is managed under a Special Use Permit on the Lolo National Forest.  National Forest lands within the permit area are open to non motorized public access year round with the following exceptions: 


The public may access National Forest land by way of a non motorized easement across Snowbowl’s private
property at the base area parking lot. This easement provides non motorized public access to National Forest
lands south of the parking lot as shown on the map. Other than on the easement identified on the map, private
land within the permit area may be closed to public access. People using this easement must park on the south
side of the Snowbowl entrance gate.

Non motorized access to Point Six may also be gained by using the Point Six Road No. 9962. Forest travelers
are advised to watch for wheeled or tracked vehicles on roads and trails while in the permit area or on the Point
Six Road No. 9962, year round.


All ski runs and trails are closed to uphill traffic when the lifts are operating. The uphill traffic restriction is in
effect 1 hour prior to the lifts opening and until day end sweep has been completed and all skiers coming
downhill have arrived at the base area. Pets that are attended on a leash will be allowed in the parking lot area

Please contact Carl Anderson, 329-3976 or Al Hilshey, 329-3962, if you have any questions.

8.5 Winter Access to the Permit Area 

People departing the ski area or going off area has been discussed in Sections 3.3.2 and 3.3.3. People wanting
to enter the Permit Area can do so as long as grooming and or snowmaking operations are not ongoing on the
particular run they are skiing or boarding and as long as they are not traveling uphill during regular business
hours while the lifts are running. Outside of regular business hours, public access is not allowed on runs while
grooming and or snowmaking are occurring on that run. Snowbowl shall not be responsible for skiers or 
snowboarders inside the ski area boundary before or after regular business hours


  1. I owe you a beer Brain! I can't tell you how many times I have tried to LEGALLY access NF lands adjacent to Snowbowl only to gets harassed and ultimately turned back.

    It’s so good to have clear policy for this access and thanks for using your blog as an outlet to clarify the situation. Submitted comments to their expansion EIS regarding these issues was futile.


  2. Any trouble with snowbowl this season??? Your blog was one of the only resources I could find on skiing up in that area..

  3. It kind of goes both ways. As a person affiliated with Snowbowl, (but not an official spokesperson)I can tell you that our biggest concerns are these:
    1) safety-it is confounding how stupidly close people ski to groomers while skiing down. A caught edge could really ruin your skiing experience. For ever. And it is distracting to operators in an already dangerous situation. You may be surprised how easy it is for the cats to lose traction and go into an uncontrollable slide. It doesn't take much sidehill to turn a cat into a giant ice skate. The little bit of double fall line on the steeper pitches of paradise is enough to do it. Only takes a slip of the hand or the distraction of somebody flying past in the dark.
    2) the quality of skiing for paying customers. Yes you should have access. But when you are making turns in freshly tilled snow (yes I like doing it too) before the snow has set up you make berms that wouldn't be there otherwise. The kind of features that we are trying to eliminate by grooming. Not saying you shouldn't have access to corduroy, but when you are on it too soon you ruin it. And in marginal conditions (i.e. early or preseason) you can take it right down to dirt. Please put yourself in a groomer's boots. We have been up all night trying to provide a great product and experience for our paying customers only to have our efforts marred and quite frankly disrespected by many (but not all) who shun the lifts.
    And hey, if you are going to use the groomed runs, shouldn't you at least kick in for some diesel fuel?
    Please respect our efforts.

  4. And as per the policy, if we see you on a slope you are already in violation.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Snowbowl Groomer: Where is the violation of seeing a skier you speak of outlined clearly for the public to read? Thank you so much! Just trying to make it safe and known for all to understand

  5. Thanks for outlining this, Brian. I skinned up paradise this morning, and had almost made it back to NF land near the beacon checkpoint, but was spotted by a groomer, named Jeff. Jeff yelled out "you can't be here" and I asked whether I could proceed to the NF land. He said no, reiterating that I shouldn't be here. I inquired a bit more, and brought up the 1 hour rule. Jeff recommended that 'I hide next time', and stay off the groomers. He also said that he didn't know where I could ski down, and that the GM, Pat, "hates uphill skiers because they continue to ski up and down during operation hours" It's really too bad that Snowbowl and the uphill skiing community are unable to communicate, I hate feeling like I need to hide all the time.