MISSOULA — As Montana gets colder in temperature and nearer to snowfall, the opening of ski resorts seems just around the corner.
However, Montana Snowbowl just north of Missoula may not begin the 2023-2024 season on its scheduled opening date.
The Lolo National Forest shared that Snowbowl will not be able to start the season (weather permitting) in early December 2023 unless they fix its chairlifts.
Snowbowl operates on a ‘Ski Area Term Special Use Permit’ from the Forest Service which was signed in 2004 and expires in 2044. At any time, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) may suspend or revoke that permit.
The ski area has had problems with their lifts over the years, including a 4-year-old being thrown from the Snow Park chair last season. Following the incident, the Snow Park lift was closed by the U.S. Forest Service for the remainder of the 2022-2023 ski season.
Additionally, the USFS requested that Snowbowl update its procedures for chairlift operations and maintenance while also bettering its lift staff training.
“One of the terms under the permit requires Snowbowl to conduct an annual inspection of the aerial lifts and ensure that all applicable engineering requirements are met. This inspection is conducted by a licensed engineer and any deficiencies found during the inspection must be corrected prior to the Forest Service authorizing the lift to open to the public,” the Lolo National Forest stated in an October 5, 2023, news release.
The USFS is requesting extra attention be given to the Snow Park chair. In addition to routine yearly inspections, they maintain that Snowbowl hires a third-party engineer to review all lifts and make sure they are in compliance with new industry standards.
The USFS is looking for Snowbowl to review and make changes before winter begins.
They explained in the release, “Under the special use permit, the responsibility of safety is assigned to Snowbowl. The Forest Service does monitor the activities occurring under the special use permit to ensure compliance with the terms and conditions outlined in the permit. The Forest is working closely with Snowbowl to ensure that all the lifts are in compliance and any deficiencies noted have been corrected prior to authorizing the start of the winter season.”
Carolyn Upton, Supervisor of the Lolo National Forest, shared “Snowbowl is progressing in the work we have asked them to do. Our goal is to continue to work with them toward permit compliance, so they are well-positioned for a successful winter recreation season.”